Next Generation Optical System Tops 2012 Milspace Procurements

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WASHINGTON — A multibillion-dollar contract award to Lockheed Martin for a new generation of optical spy satellites tops the list of U.S. military space and missile defense procurements on tap for 2012.

Loretta DeSio, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation’s classified spy satellites, said the contract award for the Next Generation Optical system is still on track for this year. She declined to provide additional details about the program.

The NRO has previously said it intended to make a sole-source award to Lockheed Martin Space Systems for the Next Generation Optical system, the government-owned component of a broader imagery-gathering architecture that also features less capable commercial satellites. The Next Generation Optical satellites will be based on the NRO’s current optical imaging satellites but with some component upgrades and would serve what national security officials refer to as exquisite imagery requirements.

Under the so-called 2-plus-2 strategy adopted by the White House in 2009, the U.S. national security community will rely on two primary commercial satellites and two NRO-owned satellites for optical imagery gathering.

In the unclassified arena, the big competitive procurements on the horizon include a new series of weather satellites and an information technology overhaul at the primary nerve center for the Pentagon’s space activities. However, the exact timing and procurement strategy for both initiatives remain uncertain.

Beyond the weather and Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) Mission System programs, 2012 offers little suspense for the U.S. military space and missile defense procurement world. Although billions of dollars worth of hardware contracts are expected this year, most will be on existing programs whose prime contractors are already in place.

Congress threw the weather satellite program back into the competitive arena late last year after terminating the Defense Weather Satellite System, on which Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif., was to be prime contractor. Congress allocated $125 million for the unspecified follow-on system.

Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said in a recent interview that the military has unique requirements that cannot be met with civilian weather satellites. The service could shed light on its strategy for procuring the system in early February, when the Pentagon’s 2013 budget request goes to Capitol Hill.

The Air Force also is planning an overhaul of software and related systems at the JSPOC, which is responsible for managing and protecting U.S. military space operations. Lockheed Martin is the incumbent contractor for the command center’s information systems, whose functions include satellite and launch operations, and space tracking and surveillance.

Congress appropriated $81.45 million for the JSPOC Mission System upgrade program in 2012, $37.5 million less than the Air Force requested. The Air Force has yet to clearly spell out its latest approach to the multiphased procurement, with options including a custom-designed system or a commercial-like approach featuring off-the-shelf software and hardware.

Meanwhile, the Air Force plans to continue buying satellites under programs that in most cases entered service relatively recently. The service in December and January exercised contract options with Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., for the eighth and ninth Wideband Global Satcom communications satellites.

The ninth satellite, expected to cost $361 million, will be funded by five countries — Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand — who in return will have access to the full constellation. The Air Force expects to award Boeing a 10th Wideband Global Satcom satellite, which was ordered up in the 2012 defense spending bill, later this year, according to Maj. Gen. John Hyten, director of space programs in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. The Air Force requested $468.7 million for the program in 2012; Congress appropriated $794.7 million.

Similarly, the Air Force is expected to order the fifth and sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellites this year from Lockheed Martin, a procurement under which the company will seek cost-saving efficiencies through measures including bulk component buys. Lockheed Martin also is prime contractor on the Space Based Infrared System of missile warning satellites, and expects to receive initial funding in 2012 to address component-obsolescence issues in preparation for an eventual contract for the fifth and sixth geosynchronous-orbit satellites in that series, according to company spokesman Stephen Tatum.

Lockheed Martin in January booked an Air Force order for the third and fourth satellites in the next-generation GPS 3 navigation and positioning system.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, meanwhile, closed 2012 with a flurry of contract awards worth some $9 billion combined, according to agency spokesman Richard Lehner. These included the $3.5 billion prime contract to develop and sustain the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System national missile shield, awarded to incumbent St. Louis-based Boeing Defense, Space and Security, and a $3.48 billion foreign military sale of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Lockheed Martin will garner as much as $1.96 billion of that total as prime contractor on that regional missile defense system and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., which supplies the radars, stands to receive $582.5 million.

In 2012, according to Lehner, the Missile Defense Agency plans to award $565 million in contracts on the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program, $705 million for additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries and $380 million for Raytheon-built missile tracking radars.

The Missile Defense Agency also hopes to develop a next-generation variant of the Standard Missile 3 interceptor used with the Aegis program, but that effort’s prospects look dim. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are designing competing Next Generation Aegis interceptors under study contracts, but Congress provided just $13.4 million of the Missile Defense Agency’s $123.5 million request for the effort this year.

The Missile Defense Agency was hoping to award the prime contract for the Next Generation Aegis interceptor in 2013.