LE BOURGET, France — Delays and cost overruns on two flagship U.S. Defense Department satellite programs were caused in large part by poor communications among the major contractors and program managers’ refusal to say, “no” to backers of exotic payload technologies, according to the head of Lockheed Martin’s space division.
Joanne M. Maguire, executive vice president of Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., said troubles with the U.S. Navy MUOS and the Air Force T-Sat programs – the latter now canceled due in part to cost concerns – are examples of failures of basic management skills as much as any technology-related hurdles.
Lockheed Martin is prime contractor for the multibillion-dollar Mobile User Objective System, a fleet of satellites to provide narrowband mobile communications and to replace the current Ultra-High-Frequency Follow-On, or UFO, system.
A Navy official on May 21 told a U.S. congressional committee that the first MUOS satellite will not be in orbit until early 2011, 11 months later than previously scheduled, because of compatibility problems between a legacy communications payload and the satellite’s platform.
Specifically, they said the Boeing MUOS payload, a copy of what Boeing built for the UFO program, has proved difficult to integrate onto the Lockheed Martin-provided satellite, which is based on the A2100 satellite bus.
In a June 15 interview, Maguire said Lockheed Martin and Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., both were at fault for not conducting detailed joint assessments early in the program’s development of possible payload-bus integration issues.
“We could have done a better job” of communicating, Maguire said. “Boeing had to restart production of the UFO payload, which took some time, and our second problem was that not all satellite buses are the same” in terms of their ability to withstand shock and other in-flight performance characteristics.
While the MUOS delay was publicly disclosed to Congress May 21, Maguire said Boeing and Lockheed have resolved this particular issue. “This was a problem. It is no longer a problem,” she said.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office on April 30 reported that MUOS satellite-related issues had increased the system’s cost by 48 percent, but that overall MUOS has not yet exceeded its baseline cost estimate.
That was not the case for the Transformational Satellite, or T-Sat, program, a next-generation broadband communications system on which the Air Force spent more than $1.5 billion for predevelopment studies by Lockheed and Boeing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in April announced the program’s cancellation, saying it was too risky and too costly.
Maguire said T-Sat fell victim to a lack of firm program management, a situation in which separate groups of prospective users piled their pet technologies onto the program, with no one telling them to stop.
Asked whether the main contractors warned the Air Force of the problem early on, she said: “We did have those conversations – repeatedly. It was relatively late in the process that [senior-level Air Force representatives] engaged. Never underestimate the ability of different communities to fight” for their favorite hardware, she said. “Nobody was willing to take a backseat. Who is going to arbitrate between the builders and the users? This was never really determined.”
Maguire said Air Force management of the GPS-3 program to provide next-generation positioning, timing and navigation services has avoided these problems. “The contrast with T-Sat is profound,” she said.