WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s plan to lease a commercial communications satellite for 15 years hit a roadblock May 12 when the House Armed Services Committee passed a bill that would eliminate most of the funding requested to initiate the program in 2012.

The committee’s version of the 2012 defense authorization bill would cut $416 million of the $500.9 million requested by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for the Assured Satcom Services in Single Theater (ASSIST) program. Instead, those funds would be moved to the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom budget line, the bill shows.

DISA in March issued a request for information for the ASSIST program, for which it is considering a long-term lease of a Ku- and Ka-band communications satellite that would be positioned over the Middle East by 2015 and associated ground terminals. The Senate Armed Services Committee has not yet marked up its version of the defense authorization bill, and neither House nor Senate appropriators have yet considered the 2012 defense spending bill.

The House version of the defense authorization bill also included a provision that would require the Pentagon to notify Congress if a commercial communications system causes interference to GPS receivers. The language, proposed by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, is related to Reston, Va.-based LightSquared’s plan to deploy a hybrid satellite-terrestrial communications network.

The company in January was granted a provisional waiver from the Federal Communications Commission to build tens of thousands of ground stations. An analytical assessment performed by the Defense Department suggested that GPS receivers will be negatively affected if the system is deployed. That analysis has now been confirmed by recent field testing, Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said during a May 11 hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. Using actual LightSquared hardware at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., engineers detected interference to military, civilian and commercial GPS receivers, Shelton said.

“Although the data is still being analyzed, I would tell you that the empirical data appears to be consistent with the analytical data, so we have concerns for commercial applications, civil applications and military applications,” he said.



LightSquared Plans Hinge on Outcome of GPS Interference Debate