Final FAB-T Development Contracts Expected any Day

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The U.S. Air Force is expected to award final development-phase contracts for a hotly contested military satellite communications terminal project “any day now,” according to a Boeing official.

Boeing Network and Space Systems of Arlington, Va., and McKinney, Texas-based Raytheon Network Centric Systems are developing competing Family of Beyond Line of Sight-Terminals (FAB-T), which would enable the president to communicate with the national command authority in the event of a nuclear war. The terminals are designed to operate with the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation of highly secure, jam-proof communications satellites.

Both companies are expected to receive final FAB-T start-up and planning contracts before the Air Force downselects to a single contractor in December, Paul Geery, Boeing’s FAB-T program manager, told reporters here Aug. 19.

Boeing paid for the lodging, travel and meals of reporters to visit its California site.

The FAB-T program, projected to cost $4.5 billion, has been in development for more than 10 years. Boeing initially was selected as FAB-T prime contractor, but the Air Force funded a competing effort by Raytheon starting last year after Boeing’s struggles led to cost growth and delays on the effort.

FAB-T is moving into its final competitive phase amid an uncertain funding outlook. In its version of the 2014 defense spending bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended spending $246 million on military satellite communications terminals, including FAB-T, which is $90 million less than the Air Force requested.

“The Committee is concerned there is not adequate visibility on several aspects of the acquisition strategy, including requirements definition and the basis for evaluation of two technologies at different states of maturity,” the report accompanying the bill reads.

Geery said Boeing was caught off guard by the Senate committee’s recommendation.

“That was shocking to me — shocking,” Geery said. “I’ve talked with those guys personally in the past. I did not expect that. The Air Force was surprised. The only thing I can come up with is they’re pushing the Air Force along with their acquisition saying, ‘Hey look. If you’re looking at a command-post only, you must not need all the money you’re talking about’ so slash. I don’t know.”

Peter Ramjug, a spokesman for Raytheon, declined to comment.

In December, the Air Force is expected to unveil the full scope of the FAB-T program and specifically whether it will deploy the terminals at ground and airborne command centers only, or include them aboard strategic bombers and certain electronic-surveillance aircraft as well. Indications are that the service is leaning toward the lower-priced option.

“It’ll be very detrimental to the Air Force if they go slashing that [2014] production budget,” Geery said. “They’re already not getting enough to do a reasonably efficient buy. There’s 200 something terminals in that production program so it doesn’t make sense to me.”