A Senate defense panel’s recommendation to kill the Space Radar satellite reconnaissance program could breathe life into an alternative concept being shopped by Boeing Co., congressional aides said.
Boeing’s approach features a different radar sensor technology than the Space Radar, a joint U.S. Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) effort to field a constellation of satellites serving the military and intelligence community. The system is designed to detect movement on the ground and collect high-resolution imagery and mapping data day or night and under all weather conditions.
The future of the Space Radar was thrown in doubt May 25 when the Senate Armed Services Committee, in marking up its version of the National Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2008, moved to kill the program. “Space Radar is terminated,” a congressional aide said. “Let’s figure out how we do this in a way that is more affordable.”
The budget request for Space Radar is classified; the Senate measure provides $80 million to the Air Force for studies of an unspecified alternative approaches to the program.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill
Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said his panel
supported the Pentagon’s budget request for the program
Space Radar is the designated replacement for the NRO’s classified Future Imagery Architecture radar satellites, which are being built by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis. The company is vying for a subcontractor role on the Space Radar, but the alternative concept, if adopted, could elevate the company to prime contractor, congressional staffers said.
Space Systems and Northrop Grumman Space Technology
, who are leading the
teams competing for the Space Radar prime contract,
are jointly circulating
a pamphlet that
touts the advantages the current
Boeing’s concept. Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems is a subcontractor on Northrop Grumman’s team.
Both the Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Space Radar designs feature an electronically scanned array () that would be supplied by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Linthicum, Md.
The ESA features
a large plate covered with electrodes that aim radar signals at
approach was effectively endorsed
in an April 27 letter from top defense and intelligence officials urging
members of Congress to support the Space Radar program. The letter was signed
by Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence; James Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence; Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Ron Sega, undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force.
“In 2005, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence agreed to jointly pursue a Space Radar system that takes advantage of electronically scanned array technologies,” the officials wrote. “Consistent with Congressional guidance, the Department of Defense
and the office of the DNI
have implemented this approach and developed a cost sharing schedule for the FY 2008 President’s Budget.”
Boeing’s proposal calls for use of a different technology known as a phased array-fed reflector, congressional sources said.
In a written
Alex Lopez, vice president for Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems, said
that “in its role as providing the Space Segment solution for the Northrop Grumman Space Technology-led Space Radar team, Boeing is committed to developing a cost-competitive technology ready solution for the program that will provide a responsive radar solution that meets the future needs of the war fighter and intelligence community.”
Robert Villanueva, a
spokesman for Boeing
, declined to comment on the alternative proposal.
Congressional aides familiar with the
Boeing sensor design said it uses
a combination of electrodes and a radar dish.
Boeing has touted the design’s ability
to handle the moving target detection and image gathering missions
on a near simultaneous basis.
The aides disagreed over whether Boeing’s proposal has enough money-saving potential to merit further study that could hold up work on the Space Radar
The Lockheed Martin-Northrop Grumman pamphlet says
the ESA sensor is capable of monitoring “10 times the number of threats within
a localized conflict area” compared to the phased array-fed reflector. The
pamphlet contends that the Boeing concept takes too long to move to cover ground.
“In one second, ESA monitors activity from Iraq to Afghanistan … and back,” the pamphlet says
. “It takes [a phased array-fed reflector] 60 seconds to do the same job,
” the pamphlet says, adding that the difference “can be a lifetime.”
The pamphlet goes on to say that ESA technology is “ready, currently developed, and has been tested since 1999,” while a phased array-fed reflector represents technology that “remains untested and unproven.”
Steve Tatum, a spokesman for of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Bob Bishop, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., confirmed in a joint statement that their companies had developed the pamphlet.
“Working closely with the government’s Space Radar program office, the two companies developed a joint Space Radar information sheet to demonstrate our full support of the government’s preferred technology approach as our customer and
Congress work together to ensure this vitally important national security program is well supported,” the statement
The congressional aides said that Boeing had circulated its proposal over a year ago, but found little interest on Capitol Hill or within the military at the time.
The concept has caught interest from Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who serves on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee
, the aides said. Dicks’ home state hosts Boeing facilities including Phantom Works.
George Behan, a spokesman for Dicks, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Loretta DeSio, a spokeswoman for the NRO
Air Force Maj. Gen. John “Tom” Sheridan,
Space Radar program executive officer and system program director as well as deputy director of the NRO
, was not available for comment.
“A vibrant space radar enterprise exists to serve future military and intelligence needs,” DeSio said in a written statement. “Although details are classified, industry professionals are proposing a range of concepts, and we look forward to considering all appropriate ideas as we move to produce a successful program that meets all the requirements.”