Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee speaks July 1, 2020 during the HASC markup of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Credit: HASC

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act July 1 by a vote of 56-0 after a marathon markup session that ended near midnight.

An amendment by HASC strategic forces subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) asks for an independent review of proposed space acquisition reforms that the secretary of the Air Force submitted to congressional committees in a May 20 draft report.

“The committee directs the Comptroller General of the United States to review the draft report on an Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force submitted by the Secretary of the Air Force and provide its analysis to the House and Senate Armed Services committees by December 15, 2020,” says an amendment offered by Cooper.

The amendment was in an en bloc package of 23 NDAA amendments put forth by the Strategic Forces subcommittee. The committee approved the package.

Cooper’s amendment says the committee is concerned that the Air Force’s recommendations in the report “risk undermining congressional oversight of major space acquisition programs.”

The report from Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett was sent to congressional committees on May 20 but was pulled back two days later for further review. The report was mandated by Congress in the 2020 NDAA.

Cooper notes that the Air Force “to date has not submitted a final copy of the report.”

Future space systems

The ranking member of the Strategic Forces subcommittee Mike Turner (R-Ohio) included an amendment in the en bloc package asking the U.S. Space Force to provide secure communications systems to support missile-warning satellites.

Turner points out that the Space Force plans to deploy new early warning satellites under the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program and the first satellite is projected to launch in 2025. Meanwhile, the current Space Force plan is to start fielding new strategic communications satellites — under the Evolved Strategic Satellite Communications program — in 2032 or later.

“Because missile warning satellites rely on protected communications satellites to relay warnings and response orders, the next-generation overhead persistent infrared missile warning satellites will require protected communications satellites with enhanced resiliency features,” says the Turner amendment.

He directs the Space Force to report back on how it will provide protected communications satellites from 2025 through 2032.

An amendment from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asks DoD to establish a domestic satellite manufacturing capability so the military can rapidly rebuilt constellations that are disrupted or destroyed by adversaries.

DoD has to be able to “rapidly acquire and field necessary space-based capabilities needed to maintain continuity of national security space missions and limit capability disruption to the warfighter,” says the amendment.

Lamborn’s provision directs DoD to “develop an operational plan and acquisition strategy for responsive satellite infrastructure to swiftly identify need, develop capability, and launch a responsive satellite to fill a critical capability gap in the event of destruction or failure of a space asset.”

Ligado’s 5G network

Another Turner amendment prohibits DoD from spending any funds to retrofit Global Positioning System devices or systems that use GPS in order to mitigate interference from Ligado’s future terrestrial 5G wireless network.

The Federal Communications Commission in April issued an order and authorization granting Ligado Networks approval to operate a nationwide terrestrial communications network using L-band spectrum that is near the bands used by GPS. DoD has asked the FCC to reverse that order on grounds that the Ligado network will interfere with GPS.

Turner notes that Ligado has committed to assuming the costs of mitigating any interference caused by their network.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) during the committee markup endorsed Turner’s amendment. “I want to say that this discussion also impacts commercial satellite operations,” he said. “At a time when we’re pushing the DoD to use more commercial satellite services, it’s just another reason the decision by the FCC was wrong.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...