Air Force technicians set up terminals that are used to communicate with the Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite constellations. Credit: U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force hopes to have a plan this summer for a $2.9 billion program that would put strategic military satellite terminals on bombers and some electronic surveillance aircraft, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Air Force has Raytheon under a $298 million contract to develop the Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T), but that contract is for 84 terminals designed exclusively for ground and airborne command posts, such as the E-4 and E-6 aircraft. In a March 31 report, the congressional watchdog agency said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, asked the Air Force to develop a strategy for a FAB-T terminal for strategic bombers by February.

The Air Force requested an extension until June 2016, the GAO said in its “Assessment of Major Weapons Programs” report.

FAB-T enables the U.S. 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 strategic and tactical communications satellites.

The Defense Department said in a March 24 report that it estimates that a new component of FAB-T, known as force element terminals, would cost about $2.9 billion for 158 terminals. Those terminals would go on B-2, B-52 and RC-135 aircraft. Those terminals are not in the Air Force’s 2017 budget request.

In 2014, Raytheon, and its competitor on the program, Boeing, had prepared bids for FAB-T for the command posts as well as an option for 132 terminals to be fitted on the strategic bombers. The additional terminals were added at the Air Force’s request even though the Defense Department had indicated that it would only buy the command post options.

Scott Whatmough, vice president of integrated communication systems at Raytheon Netcentric Systems, said in an April 6 interview that the company would be interested in building the new terminals, but that it would be unlikely the Air Force would add the new terminals as an option to the company’s existing contract.

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.