DoD reports higher costs for National Security Space Launch program

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NSSL costs over the entire life of the program increased 7.2% — from $57.2 billion to $61.3 billion.

WASHINGTON — In a new update to its annual report on major acquisition program spending, the Defense Department estimates the total cost of the National Security Space Launch program is up by $4.1 billion since December 2018.

In the so-called Selected Acquisition Reports, DoD estimates the total cost of a program by including what it has already spent and what it projects to spend in the future. In a summary of the SARs for the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 released on Thursday, NSSL costs over the entire life of the program increased 7.2% — from $57.2 billion to $61.3 billion. The report says the cost growth is due primarily to increased investment in new launch systems providers to support national security space missions, and an increase of 19 launch services, from 160 to 179, based on satellite launch requirements.

The NSSL program was formerly known as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. Congress renamed it in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act in recognition that there are now reusable, in addition to expendable, launch vehicles.

The EELV program dates back to 1994 when President Clinton signed a National Space Transportation Policy assigning responsibility for expendable launch vehicles to DoD. The NSSL program is transitioning to new launch vehicles and is seeking to leverage the commercial space industry.

The update to the Selected Acquisition Reports includes details on major defense acquisition program cost, schedule, and performance changes since December 2018. The new figures for the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 include projected spending in the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget submitted to Congress on March 11.

“SARs summarize the latest estimates of cost, schedule, and performance status,” DoD said in a news release. “These reports are prepared annually in conjunction with submission of the president’s budget.”

Quarterly exception reports are required only for those programs experiencing unit cost increases of at least 15 percent or schedule delays of at least six months. The total program acquisition cost estimates provided in the SARs include research and development, procurement, military construction, and acquisition-related operations and maintenance. These totals reflect actual costs to date as well as future anticipated costs. All estimates are shown in fully inflated then-year dollars.

The cost of the Pentagon’s entire weapons portfolio was $2 trillion in 2018, up from $1.9 trillion in 2017. Quantity changes account for the majority of the increase.

The NSSL program is one of four Air Force major acquisition programs that have reported cost increases greater than $1 billion or 10% since December 2018. The other three are the B-2 Defensive Management System Modernization ($285.3 million, or 10.3%); the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile ($5.2 billion); and the Joint Direct Attack Munition ($1.1 billion).