House Appropriators Slam USAF Satellite Block Buy Proposal

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee passed a defense spending bill June 14 that would provide significantly less funding than requested by the Air Force for the GPS program, weather satellites and launch vehicles and place restrictions on a proposal to buy a pair of secure communications satellites.

The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the 2012 defense appropriation bill would provide $649 billion for the Defense Department, $9 billion less than requested by the White House but $17 billion more than the amount appropriated for this year.

House appropriators said they support the concept of buying multiple satellites at a time in order to keep costs down. But detailed information on the Air Force’s Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE) strategy is “woefully lacking,” the committee said in the report that accompanied the bill.

Congress for several years has urged the Pentagon to consider block buys of satellites. The Air Force in February submitted its 2012 budget request that sought permission to buy the fifth and sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellites from Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif. To do so, the Air Force asked Congress to provide advance appropriations — funding that would be set at a certain level for the next several years — to avoid the budget fluctuations that can occur from year to year.

Following the lead of House authorizers, appropriators did not approve the request for advance appropriations.

“The Committee understands the funding dilemma but is disappointed that the department will not dedicate resources to fully fund its space programs, and instead is willing to rely on a budgetary gimmick,” appropriators wrote in the report accompanying the bill.

However, the bill would fully fund the Air Force’s $552.8 million request to begin procurement of the fifth and sixth AEHF satellites in 2012. It reduced by $67.2 million the program’s $421.7 research and development budget request, noting that the proposed amount was “excess to need” and poorly justified.

The House bill would provide $225 million for the new Defense Weather Satellite System, $219.9 million less than the Air Force requested. The program was initiated last year to replace a joint military-civilian weather satellite program that was dismantled by the White House. The House Appropriations Committee noted the full amount requested for the program in 2012 was excessive and poorly justified.

The House bill also would provide less than the requested amount for both the next-generation GPS space and ground segments. The service requested $463.1 million to continue development of the Lockheed Martin-built GPS 3 spacecraft, and this amount would be reduced by $50 million. Appropriators trimmed $48 million from the $390.9 million request for the GPS Operational Control Segment, or OCX, being developed by Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Aurora, Colo., citing slow program execution.

The bill would provide increased funding for launch vehicles, but well below the amount requested by the Air Force to account for skyrocketing material costs. Last year Congress provided $1.18 billion for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program; the Air Force asked for $1.74 billion for the program in 2012, but House appropriators approved only $1.57 billion, citing an “excess need due to efficiencies.”

The one Air Force space program that would receive a significant funding increase relative to the request is the Wideband Global Satcom spacecraft, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif. The Air Force requested $478.7 million to buy the eighth satellite in the series. The bill would provide an additional $335 million to also buy the ninth WGS satellite, transferring that amount of funding from a separate Pentagon effort to lease a commercial communications satellite for 15 years.

Among the other space programs recommended for cuts by the subcommittee:

  •  $29.5 million for Operationally Responsive Space, $57 million below the request;
  • $221 million for Space Situation Awareness Systems, $53 million below the request;
  • $118.9 for the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, $40 million below the request.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet considered its version of the 2012 defense appropriations bill.