The House subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon’s military space budgets is beginning to look more favorably at the U.S. Air Force’s top satellite development efforts, but remains concerned the service is seeking too much money for those programs in 2007.

The funding requests for the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System and Space Radar program were both cut by the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee April 26, but not as much as they had been in recent years.

The subcommittee reduced the $867 million request for T-Sat by $80 million, and trimmed the $266 million request for Space Radar by $30 million during the April 26 markup session.

Last year, the subcommittee cut $400 million from the Air Force’s $836 million 2006 request for T-Sat, which is intended to help meet the military’s growing thirst for communications bandwidth through the use of satellites connected to each other by lasers. The $226 million request for Space Radar, which is intended to help spot moving targets on the ground and provide high-resolution imagery, was cut by $126 million last year.

While those two programs fared better, the subcommittee made much deeper reductions to several missile defense programs in order to redirect money to efforts with more near-term payoff, according to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Overall, the subcommittee reduced the Missile Defense Agency’s $9.3 billion budget request by $183.5 million, said Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), the subcommittee’s chairman.

Responsive space

One program that continues to enjoy strong support is Operationally Responsive Space. The subcommittee added $20 million to the Air Force’s $35.6 million request for the Operationally Responsive Space program, with Everett and Reyes expressing enthusiasm for the development of small satellites.

Reyes said he hopes the additional money for responsive space work would “encourage the Pentagon to pay more attention to the potential of smaller and less expensive satellite systems designed for both military and intelligence missions.”

The Air Force established a Joint Warfighting Space program office last year at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico to manage its work on responsive satellite systems as well as vehicles that operate in the realm called near space — between 19 and 31 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. However, the subcommittee is concerned the effort lacks focus, and will include language in its version of the 2006 defense authorization bill to create a new program office, Reyes said. “We cannot expect small satellites to meet all mission requirements, but we need a more robust, focused effort to seriously explore their potential.”

The new program office would have a closer connection to military operators than the Joint Warfighting Space office maintains today so their needs are addressed during small satellite experiments, according to congressional aides.

The Joint Warfighting Space office would likely be a part of the new program office, according to one aide. While the Joint Warfighting Space office is led by a colonel, the new program might need to be led by a general officer, the aide said.

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) staffers worked closely last year with the staff of the House Appropriations Committee to develop spending plans for space programs in the 2006 defense budget, and the two committees had similar figures for most space programs. That cooperation continued this year as well, one aide said.

Missile defense takes a hit

Meanwhile, the subcommittee struck far harder at missile defense programs, eliminating, for example, the entire $40.7 million request for a prototype sensor called the High Altitude Airship.

The Missile Defense Agency had planned an initial flight test of the sensor in 2008. The sensor is being developed by Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems of Akron, Ohio.

The subcommittee also took $65 million from the Missile Defense Agency’s $165 million request for the Multiple Kill Vehicle program.

That effort, which is run by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is intended to develop a new interceptor that takes a shotgun approach to destroying enemy ballistic missiles by placing a batch of miniature interceptors at the top of a single booster rocket. Flight tests are currently scheduled to begin around 2009.

The Kinetic Energy Interceptor program also took a hit, as the subcommittee cut $100 million from the Missile Defense Agency’s $405 million request for that effort.

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., is developing the Kinetic Energy Interceptor. The Missile Defense Agency plans to conduct a flight demonstration of the booster vehicle for the system in 2008 before making a decision on whether to continue working towards fielding the system.

The subcommittee also cut $55.8 million from the Missile Defense Agency’s $118 million request to begin work on a third interceptor site for the Ground Midcourse Defense System, which is based today at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif . Pentagon officials have said that the third site will likely be in Europe.

Not everything at the Missile Defense Agency was cut. The subcommittee added $20 million for additional testing and operations resources to Missile Defense Agency’s $2.8 billion request for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System. It also added $40 million to the $1.03 billion request for the Aegis sea-based missile defense program. Half of the additional funding for the sea-based missile defense program is intended to be spent on additional Standard Missile-3 interceptors, Everett said. Those interceptors are built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz.

The subcommittee also added $140 million to the Pentagon’s budget request to upgrade Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 missiles to the PAC-3 configuration.

The subcommittee also incorporated an amendment from Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money on the testing or development of space-based missile interceptors until 90 days after the director of the Missile Defense Agency submits a report on its plans in this area to the congressional defense committees.

That report must cover how the system would work, how much it will likely cost to build and sustain, what types of vulnerabilities it might have, and the foreign-policy implications of deployment, Spratt said.

Previous efforts to constrain work in space-based missile defense by Democrats on the subcommittee generally have been defeated by party-line votes, but Spratt’s amendment was accepted by unanimous consent.

Spratt noted that while the Missile Defense Agency’s 2007 budget request does not including funding for space-based interceptors, it does include a plan that calls for spending $570 million for that purpose from 2008 through 2011. Spratt said he wants to know exactly where that money will go before the agency gets started on the work. Missile defense programs traditionally have run into problems not from a lack of funding, but from insufficient focus on requirements, Spratt said.

Given that most of the Pentagon’s space efforts have run into major cost and schedule problems in recent years, and that the Missile Defense Agency already has a full plate of complex efforts, the agency may need to focus on its existing portfolio before adding another expensive effort to the mix, Spratt said.

He noted that in addition to the cost of developing the space-based interceptors, the Missile Defense Agency will need to launch and replenish the constellation, further adding to the cost.

Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, declined to comment on the potential effect of the subcommittee’s recommended actions until Congress finishes its work on the defense budget.