WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force plans to spend less money than previously anticipated in the coming years for a next-generation satellite communications system , and will examine scaling back the capability of a space-based missile warning system already well into development, according to an internal Pentagon budget document.
The document, approved Dec. 23 by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, also shows a higher six-year funding profile for a proposed constellation of radar satellites for ground surveillance, but reduced funding over that same period for missile defense programs.
The Program Budget Decision No. 753, details of which were first reported by the Web site InsideDefense.com, calls for $55 billion in overall cuts to Pentagon weapon programs over the next six years to address the U.S. budget deficit and the growing cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The document, which does not specify the proposed 2006 funding requests for programs, nonetheless provides a snapshot of the Defense Department’s thinking as it prepares to submit its final spending plan to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, did not return phone calls requesting comment for this story.
The document shows a reduced funding profile for the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications program, which is intended to develop a laser-linked satellite constellation to help ease the Pentagon’s bandwidth crunch beginning around 2013. The document indicates that the Pentagon would spend $400 million less than previously anticipated in 2006 and 2007. A budget planning profile released in February 2004 said the Air Force intended to spend $1.2 billion in 2006 and $1.4 billion in 2007 on the T-Sat effort .
The proposed reduction may be explained by the need to cover cost growth on the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) communications satellites, which are expected to begin launching in 2008.
The Air Force in December acknowledged an expected 20 percent cost overrun on those satellites due to encryption problems.
Last February’s Advanced EHF funding profile outlined expenditures of $410 million in 2006 and $938 million through 2009 ; the new internal budget document shows spending rising by $828 million during that period.
Congressional aides expressed puzzlement at some of what is proposed in the new document, particularly with regard to the Space Based Radar, a constellation of satellites for imaging and moving-target surveillance. In the 2005 Defense Appropriations Act, Congress provided only $75 million of the Air Force’s $328 million request for the Space Based Radar, and directed that the program be scaled back to a research and development effort.
The Air Force’s February 2004 budget profile indicated that the service would request $466 million for the Space Based Radar in 2006, $502 million in 2007, $1.1 billion in 2008, and $1.5 billion in 2009. But as of late last year, Pentagon officials were saying the 2006 request for the program would be in the neighborhood of $200 million.
The Dec. 23 program budget decision suggests the Pentagon will request $16 million less for the effort in 2006 than previously anticipated: the Air Force would increase its request by $88 million, but the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency would reduce its spending by $104 million. Overall, the budget document suggests that spending on the Space Based Radar would rise by $589 million from 2006 through 2011.
Congressional aides said a 2006 request for the Space Based Radar along the lines of the funding profile envisioned last year is likely to get a very chilly reception on Capitol Hill.
The program budget decision contains no spending figures for the Space Based Infrared System missile warning satellites, a program that has suffered dramatic cost growth and delays since the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, was selected in 1996. But the document calls for a review with an eye toward scaling back system capabilities, with recommendations due to the Pentagon’s intelligence chief and top acquisition officials by March 31.
Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency is examining a slew of cuts to major programs to meet the proposed $5 billion reduction in its budget over the next six years, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.
These sources said the White House Office of Management and Budget has specifically asked the Pentagon to examine cutting three programs: the Airborne Laser, a Boeing-developed aircraft intended to shoot down missiles in their boost phase ; the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, a series of experimental missile-tracking satellites being built by Northrop Grumman; and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, a Northrop Grumman-led effort intended to develop rockets that can knock down missiles in their boost phase.
At a Jan. 4 meeting of senior defense officials, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the Missile Defense Agency’s director, suggested another option: cutting 50 percent of the infrastructure costs associated with all missile defense programs, which is being referred to as the “sliced cheese approach.” Such an option might save deep cuts or outright elimination of programs , sources said.
Sources said the $5 billion savings could come by either cutting the ABL and Space Surveillance & Tracking System satellites or the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, or Obering’s proposal to cut infrastructure costs across the board.
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