— The late addition of a fourth satellite to the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) constellation is responsible for 80 percent of the program’s cost growth and has triggered a mandatory assessment of alternative options, Gary Payton, the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs said Sept. 10.

In the 2008 defense authorization bill, Congress directed the Air Force to buy an additional AEHF protected military communications satellite from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., out of growing concerns about the readiness of the follow-on program, the Transformational Satellite communications system.

Production lines for many of the unique parts of the AEHF satellites had been shut down, as the Air Force originally anticipated building only three satellites, Payton said. As such, the Air Force estimates the fourth satellite will cost $2 billion, after the third satellite cost $939 million.

That satellite, in addition to cost growth for the other three satellites, has caused the total cost of the program to exceed 25 percent more than previously estimated. As such, the program must go through the Pentagon’s Nunn-McCurdy process for recertification, and an analysis of alternatives will be considered, Payton said. Because most of the cost growth is due to the congressionally directed fourth satellite, Payton has asked the Pentagon’s acquisition office to conduct the review expeditiously.

“While this is a Nunn-McCurdy breach, and we will answer the questions, it’s not a program that is wildly out of control,” Payton said.

Work on the first three satellites, which are in various stages of development and testing, will not be halted while the review is conducted, Payton said. The first AEHF satellite is expected to launch in the second half of 2009, with the second satellite following it in 2010, and the third satellite in 2011.