WASHINGTON — The two-year budget agreement reached Oct. 26 by the White House and Congress could pave the way for passage a defense authorization bill for 2016, albeit one that provides less funding for selected space and missile defense programs than the version vetoed earlier in the month by U.S. President Barack Obama.
According to a document from the House and Senate Armed Services committees, which in September settled on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, the budget deal requires Congress to trim $5 billion from military spending levels authorized in that piece of legislation, about $30 million of which would come from space and another $80 million from missile defense.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 raises the federal spending caps that had long been a bone of contention between Congress and the White House and ultimately led Obama to veto the 2016 NDAA, a policy bill that also would have granted some relief on the Russian rocket engine ban whose impact is already being felt in U.S. Air Force launch competitions. The House previously said it would attempt to override that veto, but that was before the budget agreement was reached.
Obama’s original defense spending request for the Pentagon was $612 billion, a number that exceeded the spending cap by $25 billion. The original 2016 NDAA dipped into emergency wartime funds to reach that level — thus drawing the controversial veto — but the revised version provides $607 million.
Of the space-related cuts expected by the newly revised NDAA, the biggest is aimed at the Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals, designed to send and receive strategic communications via the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites. The White House requested $79 million for the program in 2016, but Congress will now authorize $44 million — $10 million less than in the previous NDAA.
The revised bill also recommends just $51 million for the Air Force’s Weather Satellite Follow-on, $5 million less than the vetoed NDAA authorized. The Air Force requested $76 million for the program, which like all other federal programs is operating at its 2015 spending level under a continuing resolution that expires Dec. 11.
Hardest hit in missile defense is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which would lose $50 million in procurement funding compared with the previous version of the NDAA, which conformed to the White House request of $454 million for procurement, according to the document. The Standard Missile-3 Block 1B interceptor would get $30 million less in procurement funding compared with the NDAA-approved request of $147 million, the documents said.
Other reductions to the authorized spending include:
- $6 million less from the White House’s request of $561 million for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency program.
- $2 million less from the White House’s request of $380 million for the GPS program.
- $5.7 million less from the White House’s request of $93 million for the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System narrowband communications satellites.
- $2 million less from the White House’s request of $7.8 million for the Air Force Satellite Control Network, which is now the subject of an early outsourcing initiative.
- $5 million less from the White House’s request of $6.9 million for the Spacelift Range System, which provides command and control of Air Force rocket launches.
The exact form of the new authorization legislation, and its path to passage, are unclear, but the process is nonetheless expected to wrap up before the end of November, Hill sources said.
News of a lower-than-expected funding profile for FAB-T comes a week after the Air Force approved the start of low-rate initial production of the terminals, which enable the president and national command authority to communicate in a nuclear war environment.
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of McKinney, Texas, is developing FAB-T under a $298 contract modification awarded in June 2014. The Air Force on Oct. 27 approved initial production of 10 command-post terminals, four of which will be airborne.
The latest budget numbers also signal the Congress’ continuing frustration over the Air Force’s weather satellite strategy, which has yet to gel in a coherent way following the termination of a civil-military program in 2010. The Air Force has one satellite remaining in its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, but whether it gets launched is another bone of contention between the service and the White House.