House Appropriators Slam USAF Satellite Block Buy Proposal

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WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on June 14 are scheduled to mark up a defense spending bill that would cut funding for the GPS program and launch vehicles and place restrictions on an Air Force proposal to buy a pair of secure communications satellites.

The House version of the 2012 defense appropriation bill supports 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,” according to language in the defense subcommittee’s report that was released June 13.

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 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, noting that the proposed amount was “excess to need” and poorly justified.

The House bill would reduce the budget for both the GPS space and ground segments. The services 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 Air Force budget for launch vehicles would be cut by $170 million. With material costs skyrocketing, the service requested $1.74 billion for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program in 2012. The House bill would provide $1.57 billion, citing an “excess need due to efficiencies.”

The one Air Force space program that would receive a significant funding increase 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 programs recommended for cuts:

  • $225 million for the Defense Weather Satellite System, $220 million below the request;
  • $29.5 million for Operationally Responsive Space, $57 million below the request;
  • $221 million for Space Situation Awareness Systems, $53 million below the request.