House Panel Slashes Airborne Laser, Boosts SBIRS Funding

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  Space News Business

House Panel Slashes Airborne Laser, Boosts SBIRS Funding

By WARREN FERSTER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 08 May 2007
03:58 pm ET


WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee has recommended gutting the Airborne Laser missile-interceptor program and providing more money to procure additional missile-warning and secure communications satellites in marking up its portion of the 2008 defense spending bill May 2.

In a statement issued May 2, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the strategic forces panel, said the markup reflects an emphasis on programs that can make a difference in the near term as well as continuing concerns about keeping complex development efforts on schedule and within budget.

In missile defense, the subcommittee tended to favor deployment-ready systems such as the Aegis sea-based interceptor at the expense of futuristic ones like the Airborne Laser. The panel slashed $400 million from the Missile Defense Agency’s $549 million request for the Airborne Laser, a modified Boeing 747 aircraft equipped with a high-powered laser designed to shoot down missiles in their boost phase. The current 2007 budget for the program is $629 million. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis is prime contractor on the Airborne Laser, whose first missile intercept test recently was delayed from 2008 to 2009.

In a prepared statement, Boeing said the Airborne Laser “has made tremendous progress over the last three years, including completing ground tests of the high-energy laser, fully integrating the beam control/fire control system inside the… aircraft and firing the tracking laser in flight at an airborne target.”

Meanwhile, the panel recommended adding $66 million to the Missile Defense Agency’s $1 billion request for the Aegis sea-based system, including $36 million for production of Standard Missile-3 interceptors. The panel also added $12 million for production of Patriot PAC-3 missiles. Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., is prime contractor on both programs.

“In ballistic missile defense programs, the mark reflects our support for addressing real, near-term missile threats facing the warfighter — short- and medium-range missiles — and making only prudent investments in high-risk, immature programs,” Tauscher said in her prepared statement.

On space programs, emphasis also was on near-term capabilities. For example, the panel added $100 million to the U.S. Air Force’s $1 billion request for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning system for procurement of a fourth satellite. The Air Force restructured the SBIRS program in 2005, paring back the number of satellites to be procured from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., from five to no more than three. The Air Force is not expected to decide until this summer whether to even buy the third satellite, although service officials have indicated they are leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, the strategic forces panel slashed $200 million from the Air Force’s $231 million request for the Alternate Infrared Satellite System, which was hatched as replacement or a follow-on missile warning system, depending on SBIRS’s post-restructuring performance.

Similarly, the panel recommended adding $100 million to the Air Force’s $611 million request for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure satellite communications system for procurement of a fourth satellite. The Air Force plans to buy only three of the satellites from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems before moving on to the more-capable Transformational Satellite Communications System, or T-Sat. The panel fully funded the Air Force’s $964 million request for T-Sat, which will use laser-optical crosslinks and Internet Protocol router technology to dramatically increase the bandwidth available to U.S. forces around the world.

In a prepared statement, Rep. Terry Everett (Ala.), the strategic forces panel’s ranking Republican, noted that the T-Sat program has made significant progress on the technologies deemed critical to its success. The T-Sat satellites are expected to start launching around 2016, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin are competing for the contract.

Everett also said the markup supports the Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office Space Radar program, whose budget details are now classified.

The subcommittee proposed trimming $150 million from the Air Force’s $587 million request for the GPS 3 satellite navigation system, which is expected to start launching around 2013. The panel added $40 million to procure three more of the earlier-generation GPS 2F satellites being built by Boeing. The additional satellites would increase the GPS 2F order from 12 to 15 satellites.

“Regarding military space programs, as was the case a year ago, this mark reflects concern about whether certain programs can be executed on the schedules and within the cost estimates included in the budget,” Tauscher said.

The markup would increase planned Pentagon spending on Operationally Responsive Space programs by $30 million, to $117 million.

So-called space control and space situational awareness programs would get a $130 million increase under the subcommittee’s proposed budget. The Air Force recently said one such program, the Space Based Space Surveillance system, needed $35 million over and above its $157 million request to keep intact the satellite’s scheduled launch date in late 2008.

Everett said space generated considerable discussion during the markup. “China’s anti-satellite test in January provided a clear reminder that we cannot take our space assets for granted,” he said in his prepared statement. “The chairman’s mark contains a provision I strongly support which places a priority on the protection of our space assets and increases funding for space situational awareness and operationally responsive space capabilities.”

In other actions, the subcommittee proposed:

�Cutting $160 million from the budget request for work to establish U.S. missile defense interceptor and radar sites in Europe;

�Trimming $80 million from the Missile Defense Agency’s $271 million request for the Multiple Kill Vehicle, a Lockheed Martin-led effort to develop a system that could take out missile warheads and decoys alike; and

�Cutting $85 million from the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. The Missile Defense Agency requested $322 million for the program, which is designed to field satellites capable of tracking missiles in mid flight.