WASHINGTON — A U.S. congressional panel on May 12 recommended slashing $300 million from the Air Force’s $352 million budget request for weather satellites next year while steering significant increases toward other military space efforts, including Operationally Responsive Space.
In marking up its portion of the 2011 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee trimmed $182.2 million from the Air Force’s $9.9 billion overall request for unclassified space programs. Meanwhile, the subcommittee proposed adding $361.6 million to the Pentagon’s $9.9 billion request for missile defense programs, with a notable beneficiary being the Airborne Laser program.
The weather satellite program targeted by lawmakers for a big reduction, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), previously was a joint program that also included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. In rolling out its 2011 budget request in February, the White House announced it was disbanding the NPOESS tri-agency partnership, directing the Air Force and NOAA to pursue separate polar-orbiting weather satellite systems.
NOAA will use the sensors developed under NPOESS as the basis for a new civil weather satellite system, which will be integrated by NASA.
The strategic forces subcommittee said the Air Force has not defined exactly what it would do with the full amount requested for NPOESS.
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“This cut stems from the lack of a clear strategy for restructuring the weather program,” Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said during the hearing.
The Defense Department’s top acquisition official, Ashton Carter, was briefed May 7 on options for a military weather satellite program, but no decision has been made, Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said May 10. Given that the Air Force has two legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft yet to launch, Carter may choose to take what government and industry sources characterized as a “strategic pause” in military weather satellite efforts.
The House panel recommended adding $40 million to the Air Force’s $94 million request for the Operationally Responsive Space Office to fund development of enabling technologies and infrastructure for the rapid reconstitution of satellites, Langevin said. The subcommittee also added $50 million to continue developing next-generation satellite communications technologies, while tacking $28 million onto the request for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program to continue development of a common upper-stage engine for the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets.
The subcommittee recommended trimming $30 million from the Air Force’s $185.9 million request for a follow-on to the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite, based on recommendations by the Government Accountability Office, Langevin said. It also denied for the third straight year the Air Force’s $40.9 million request for the High Integrity GPS program.
In the missile defense portfolio, the subcommittee added $133.6 million to the Pentagon’s $498.7 million request for the Patriot missile program. This increase was in response to an unfunded requirement from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, and will enable 24 Patriot launchers to be upgraded to the advanced PAC-3 configuration, Langevin said.
The subcommittee added $50 million to the $99 million request for the Airborne Laser program, which the Pentagon has relegated from a potential operational system to a test bed for high-energy laser technologies. The subcommittee also added $65 million for advanced procurement for AN/TPY-2 missile defense radars and $50 million for Standard Missile-3 interceptors.
The full House Armed Services committee is scheduled to mark up the bill May 19.