AEHF Block Buy Partially Approved in Defense Bill

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A $690 billion defense authorization bill approved May 26 in the U.S. House of Representatives would allow the Air Force to buy two more secure communications satellites, add $20 million to the Pentagon’s budget for Operationally Responsive Space and authorize $8 million to conduct a study on space-based missile interceptors.

The bill, H.R. 1540, passed by a vote of 322-96 despite a White House threat to veto the measure over several provisions related to nuclear arms reductions and Guantanamo detainees.

The Air Force, in the budget request it sent to Congress for 2012, is seeking permission to contract on a fixed-price basis with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., for the fifth and sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellites. The House bill — which gives policy guidance and recommends spending levels, but provides no actual funding — would allow the Air Force to contract for the satellites and pay for them over as many as five years provided that the total cost is no more than $3.1 billion. However, the bill does not authorize the advance appropriations that the Pentagon requested for the satellites. The White House, in a May 24 statement of administration policy on the bill, reiterated the need for advance appropriations.

The Pentagon requested $86.5 million for the joint Operationally Responsive Space Office, which is chartered to develop quick-response space capabilities for urgent warfighter needs. The bill recommends increasing funding to $106.5 million.

The bill also authorizes funding for a space-based interceptor study. The Missile Defense Agency has sought funding numerous times over the past decade for a similar study, only to be rebuffed by Congress.

The defense authorization bill would prohibit the Air Force from issuing a contract for development of a new space monitoring architecture known as the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) Mission System until the secretary of the Air Force and the Pentagon’s acquisition chief submit an acquisition strategy to the congressional defense committees. The Air Force’s plan to contract for several pieces of the system was halted earlier this year after an independent review found faults with the acquisition strategy.

The bill also would require the secretary of defense to notify Congress if a commercial communications system will cause interference with GPS signals on the ground. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, took credit for the provision and said it is aimed at a hybrid satellite-terrestrial communications network proposed by LightSquared of Reston, Va., that may interfere with GPS signals. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to mark up its version of the defense authorization bill in June, a government source said. Both the House and Senate must adopt identical measures before the president can sign the defense authorization into law.

Neither the House nor Senate has passed a 2012 defense appropriations bill.