The U.S. Air Force wants to nearly triple its annual budget for a ground-based, space surveillance system in 2009 – and that amount still might not be enough to start initial operations as planned, according to the service official overseeing the effort.
Lt. Col. John Brendle, the program manager for the program the Air Force calls the Space Fence, said even more money will be needed to get the system ready for its planned initial deployment in 2015.
The five-year Air Force budget plan that accompanied the service’s 2008 budget request had anticipated a
$14.7 million request for the Fence in 2009. Instead, the 2009 budget request sent to Congress in February
requested $45.3 million.
That money would
enable the program to move into its concept development stage in 2009,
which includes risk reduction work, Brendle said in a March 14 interview. Congress added almost $10 million to the Air Force’s $4 million request for the Space Fence in 2008.
The Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which consists of the vice chiefs of staffs of each military service, validated 2015 as the requirement for the initial deployment of the Space Fence in early March, Brendle said. He declined to comment on the anticipated deployment date if Congress does not add money to the Air Force budget for the program.
The Space Fence would replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System, a very high frequency radar (VHF) also known as the Fence. The current system was operated by the U.S. Navy for most of its existence beginning in 1961.
The current Air Force Space Surveillance System involves nine ground-based sensors deployed across the southern United States. The new Space Fence is expected to have just three stations, but each will feature S-band radar, a higher frequency than VHF that will – in concert with other space situational awareness systems – help
the Air Force
increase the number of
space objects it can track from 10,000 to 100,000, according to an Air Force budget document.
The new ground stations
also will be more widely dispersed, with two located outside the United States, Brendle said. Placing the stations outside the United States will give the Air Force more opportunities to view an object as it orbits around the Earth.
Air Force Space Command is in the early stages of site exploration, and has yet to form any agreements with potential host nations, he said. He declined to speculate about potential sites inside or outside the United States at this time, though he said that Lake Kickapoo, Texas, already hosts significant infrastructure for the Air Force Space Surveillance System and could be a possible area for consideration.
The Pentagon had at one time envisioned beginning its deployment of the new Space Fence system in 2008, with a full capability available by 2012. However, the program has been delayed due to repeated funding shortages and a military debate over its requirements.
The Air Force is in the early stages of developing its 2010 budget request, and Brendle said that program officials
already have submitted a request for additional funding to help meet the 2015 date.
also is studying the possibility of moving up the initial deployment of the system to 2014, Brendle said. Moving up the deployment date could require beginning with less capability, such as a partial sensor array that could be built up in the following years, he said.
The Air Force expects to release the formal request for proposals for the Space Fence work this summer, with an
award likely to occur around January, Brendle said.
Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp.
and Lockheed Martin Corp. are all expected to bid for the contract.
Tom Delaney, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, said
the company has built a variety of S-band radar systems for purposes including air traffic control, aerial surveillance
and shipboard marine uses.
Stan Ozga, director of naval radar programs at Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors in Moorestown, N.J., said the
company’s relevant experience includes developing the S-band sensors for the Navy’s Aegis ships, which have been used in recent years for new applications like tracking incoming targets during missile defense intercept testing and tracking of the falling National Reconnaissance Office satellite during the Feb. 20 shootdown
The U.S. Navy had awarded Raytheon Co. a contract to build the new Space Fence in 2002 prior to transitioning the program to the Air Force later that year, but the Air Force reopened the effort to competition after it began looking for industry input in 2006.
Kent Varnum, director of missile defense and space surveillance at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Woburn, Mass., said
the company’s experience building a variety of radar systems for the Missile Defense Agency gives it useful experience that can be applied to the Space Fence. Those systems include the ground-based Early Warning Radar sensors deployed around the world that feature VHF sensors as well as the Sea Based X-Band Radar system, where Raytheon built the sensor under subcontract to Boeing Co., he said.
In the S-band arena, Raytheon’s experience includes serving as the prime contractor for the Cobra Judy system, which features an S-band sensor provided by Northrop Grumman as well as a Raytheon-built X-band sensor. Varnum said
the company has not decided whether to build the S-band sensors for the Space Fence or to turn to a subcontractor if it wins the competition.