Mike Rogers
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). Credit: U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee on conservation, energy and forestry

WASHINGTON — The 2015 defense authorization bill approved May 8 by the House Armed Services Committee aims to put the brakes on U.S. Air Force efforts to examine alternative architectures for some if its key space capabilities.

The bill, now headed for a vote on the House floor, restricts how the Air Force can spend Space Modernization Initiative (SMI) funding within the accounts for its missile warning and secure communications satellite programs. Specifically, the measures fence off half the funding for selected modernization activities pending the completion of studies for alternatives to the programs of record.

However, the measures stipulate that the restrictions do not apply to funding to be spent on the programs of record.

The Air Force’s programs of record in missile warning and secure communications are the Space Based Infrared System and Advanced Extremely High Frequency system, respectively. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, is the prime contractor on the multibillion-dollar programs, both of which have satellites on orbit with several more in the manufacturing pipeline.

Typically, a small portion of the annual budgets for individual Air Force space programs is set aside for SMI-type activities, which can focus on upgrades to existing systems, or follow-on or alternative systems. The Air Force included $88.6 million in SMI funding in its $770.3 million request for SBIRS next year; for AEHF, the corresponding numbers are $122.3 million and $613.1 million, respectively.

The Air Force is in the midst of a broad examination of its space architecture with an eye toward increasing the resiliency of its constellations against growing threats that range from unintentional signal interference to deliberate sabotage or anti-satellite weapons. One approach receiving a lot of attention is disaggregation, whereby capabilities currently concentrated on large satellites would be dispersed on smaller, less-complex platforms.

During its markup of the Defense Authorization Act for 2015, the House Armed Services Committee authorized the full requested amounts for SBIRS and AEHF. However, the committee also adopted two amendments, both sponsored by Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, that target SBIRS and AEHF modernization funding.

The SBIRS-related measure fences off half of the funding set aside to demonstrate new missile warning sensor technologies and hosted payload deployment schemes. Under the SBIRS account for 2015, the Air Force requested $21 million for hosted payload activities and $29 million for its wide field of view sensor demonstration program.

Rogers’ AEHF amendment fences off 50 percent of the money appropriated for demonstrations of protected satellite communications capabilities pending completion of an analysis of alternatives on the legacy program. The Air Force requested $23 million next year for a protected tactical communications demonstration and $14 million for a protected military satellite communications testbed.

Another measure in the bill that was including during a preliminary markup by Rogers’ subcommittee fences off half of the $23 million in proposed SMI funding aimed at SBIRS data exploitation pending Air Force certification that the money will go toward utilization of data from the program of record. “The Committee is concerned that the Air Force is not focusing on developing the capabilities to fully exploit the data from existing SBIRS programs,” the language in the report accompanying the bill says.

In a May 8 email, Chip Eschenfelder, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said, “We’re continuing to review the budget in detail to understand the specific impacts to our business, and continue to work with the administration and Congress over the coming months as budget discussions continue.”

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.