WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center awarded Raytheon Technologies a $625 million contract to produce nuclear-hardened satellite communications terminals. 

The 11-year contract, announced June 28, is for production of FAB-T terminals used to connect strategic bombers and reconnaissance aircraft with classified military communications satellites. 

This was a sole-source contract to Raytheon. The company since 2014 has been the Air Force’s primary contractor for FAB-T, short for Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals.

The new contract is for production and logistics support of an unspecified number of FAB-T terminals that will fly on U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bombers and RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft.

Development contract in 2020

The $625 million deal follows a $442.3 million contract  the Air Force awarded Raytheon in 2020 to design and develop a FAB-T terminal for aircraft communications with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) network of classified satellites.

The Air Force is seeking to update decades-old B-52 bomber and RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft satcom terminals — designed to connect with legacy Milstar (Military Strategic and Tactical Relay) satellites — to the newer AEHF constellation. 

The B-52 and RC-135 are critical nodes in the U.S. nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) architecture. During a nuclear war, these strategic aircraft have to be able to receive orders from national command authorities.

Program under scrutiny

Now run by the U.S. Space Force, the FAB-T program was recently identified as one of the service’s most troubled procurements. 

A February 2023 report the Space Force’s senior acquisition executive Frank Calvelli submitted to Congress notes that FAB-T is more than a decade behind schedule. 

“The original FAB-T contractor failed to develop a suitable technical solution, resulting in over a decade of schedule delays against the original schedule baseline,” said the report. “As a result, in 2014 the program office re-competed the contract and awarded a new contract to a different vendor.”

Boeing was the FAB-T prime contractor before the Air Force opted to go with Raytheon. 

Calvelli’s report said there were a number of issues that contributed to FAB-T’s problems, including “the original contractor inability to develop a suitable technical solution, government deficiency in selecting a contractor with the requisite skill set to develop the solution, integration delays due to aircraft platform availability, and operational test delays resulting from government’s lack of timely acquisition of relevant threat testing assets.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...