WASHINGTON – The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee wants to withhold $18 million from the U.S. Air Force’s 2017 budget until it provides a clearer plan for a new battle management system meant to help detect and respond to threats in space.

The battle management system is being developed as part of a broader program to modernize the the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The program, known as the JSpOC Mission System (JMS), is a three-phased, $1 billion initiative to replace or upgrade the hardware and software currently used for space surveillance, collision avoidance, launch support, and providing more precise and timely orbital information.

The final set of upgrades, known as Increment 3, is expected to provide a battle management system. That program would help the Air Force prepare for threats to its satellites and bolster the Defense Department’s space-event monitoring, planning, tasking, execution and post-event assessments.The Air Force asked for $24.8 million for increment 3 in its budget request for the 2017 budget year that starts Oct. 1, but members of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee are skeptical about the direction of the program.

“We really have not seen clear requirements or an acquisition strategy from the Air Force on that program,” a HASC committee staffer said.

In a draft version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, the subcommittee fenced $18 million for the Increment 3 program until the Air Force provides a detailed report on the program’s future.

In short, the panel wants to restrict the funding “until they come up with a plan,” the staffer said.

“The report would include the acquisition strategy; requirements; funding and schedule; the strategy for use of commercially available capabilities, as appropriate, relating to such increment to rapidly address warfighter requirements, including the market research and evaluation of such commercial capabilities; and how it relates to other applicable activities and investments of the Department of Defense,” report language accompanying the draft bill said.

Accelerating Increment 3 was a key part of the White House’s budget strategy last year to combat emerging space threats from China and Russia. Defense Department leaders frequently highlighted the program as part of a $5.5 billion shift to space protection spending.

But since then, industry and government officials have questioned how Increment 3 will fit into the Defense Department’s long-term plans, especially in light of the new Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC, that coordinates DoD and intelligence community space operations. Located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the JICSpOC has been experimenting with some of the same capabilities that are included with Increment 3.

“Experimentation being done at the JICSpOC has highlighted the requirement for continued interagency integration and Space Battle Management and Command and Control (BMC2),” Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, said in an email to SpaceNews. “These lessons learned are helping us understand the requirements for future BMC2 capabilities.  With regard to JMS Increment 3, we are working to define the associated requirements.  Our analysis will help inform program decisions moving forward for both the JICSpOC and JSpOC.”

Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command discussed some of these issues and concerns during his April 12 speech at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

“How do you do advanced Battle Management Command and Control? The way we’ve been acquiring command and control is wrong” he said in in his speech. “We’re gonna build prototypes; we’re gonna use Air Force Research Lab and build prototypes and then we’ll build a system engineering project and transition that to programs of record, but not until we understand how the prototype works in a real operational environment because BMC2 is the key piece of this puzzle.”

The subcommittee’s mark comes after the Air Force briefed lawmakers on delays with the current batch of improvements to the JSpOC, known as Increment 2. Increment 2 is aimed at weaning the Air Force from the legacy Space Defense Operations Center, or SPADOC, that Air Force officials say is dated and increasingly difficult to maintain. Increment 2 is now expected to be complete in mid-2018, about 19 months later than expected.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee’s draft bill also asked the Pentagon’s comptroller general for a review of all the Defense Department’s software-intensive military space system acquisitions by July 1. This review includes a report on JMS as well as the ground control system for the Air Force’s next generation GPS satellites, known as the Operational Control Segment or OCX.

That program, which U.S. military officials have labeled the Defense Department’s most-troubled development program, is expected to be completed in July 2021, or about six years later than original projections.

The delays in both programs “may indicate that the Department’s acquisition policies, processes, and oversight are not adequately structured to deliver critical capabilities in a timely and cost effective manner,” the draft version of the bill said.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.