Pentagon Focused on Steady Satellite Production

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WASHINGTON — With all of the U.S. Defense Department’s essential space systems now in the midst of recapitalization and little discretionary funding available, the military is now focused on stabilizing satellite production lines to keep costs in check.

Though there are no new major satellite development contract awards on tap for this year, the U.S. Air Force does plan to initiate multiple competitions to develop pieces of its next-generation data fusion and command-and-control architecture at the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The Pentagon submitted its 2011 budget request nearly a year ago, but Congress has not yet appropriated full-year funding for the military. Rather, lawmakers have funded the government with a series of stop-gap funding measures known as continuing resolutions that hold spending to prior year levels.

The Air Force’s budget for military satellites and rockets was expected to decrease somewhat in 2011, and it appears the budgetary uncertainty will not have much effect on space procurements.

The service has already put a number of high-priority space systems under contract in recent months. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is the prime contractor for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications satellites, the first of which was launched in 2010. Lockheed Martin had received some $300 million since 2009 to purchase long-lead parts for the fourth satellite in the series, and in December the company was awarded the full AEHF-4 production contract modification valued at $1.3 billion.

The Air Force also intends to contract this year with Lockheed Martin to begin purchasing long-lead parts for AEHF-5, Air Force spokesman Joe Davidson said Jan. 20. The service will buy the fifth and sixth AEHF satellites together as part of a new block buy strategy announced by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley Jan. 12.

Lockheed Martin was also recently tapped to produce the fourth satellite for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning constellation. The company has delivered two SBIRS payloads that are hosted on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits, and the first SBIRS geosynchronous satellite is planned for launch in April.

Lockheed Martin in July 2009 received a $262.5 million order to begin procuring long-lead parts for the fourth SBIRS satellite and on Jan. 7 was awarded the full production contract worth $424.7 million.

The fifth and sixth SBIRS satellites will be purchased together as part of the new block buy strategy, according to a government source. Lockheed Martin expects to receive authorization to begin procuring long-lead components for those satellites before the end of the year.

The Pentagon also plans to buy another Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) spacecraft this year. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., has delivered three of the high-capacity communications satellites that are on orbit and is under contract to produce three more. After issuing Boeing a $182 million contract in 2010 to begin long-lead procurement of WGS-7, the service expects to award a full production contract for that satellite this year, Davidson said. Boeing also will receive some funding to begin purchasing long-lead parts for WGS-8, he said.

The GPS 3 navigation system was the Air Force’s last major satellite-fleet recapitalization program to be put under contract. Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract in May 2008 to develop the first block of GPS 3 spacecraft, and Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Garland, Texas, in February 2010 won a competition to develop the next-generation ground segment, called GPS OCX.

After receiving reprogramming authority from Congress late last year, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $74.8 million contract Dec. 23 to begin purchasing long-lead parts for the third and fourth satellites in the series. The Air Force plans to spend a total of $1 billion on the GPS program this year, most of which is research and development funding associated with GPS 3 and OCX.

Also on the Air Force’s procurement agenda this year are three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) rockets from Denver-based United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, Davidson said. The Air Force’s proposed $1.2 billion EELV budget also will pay for most of United Launch Alliance’s manpower and overhead costs.

Meanwhile, the Air Force plans to release by the end of January requests for proposals to develop two parts of the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, Davidson said. The 26 prime contractors on the Defense Information Systems Agency’s massive Encore 2 contract will be eligible to bid for the High Accuracy Catalog and Integration and Sustainment task orders for the system, he said.

One question mark for the Air Force this year is the amount it can invest in a new weather satellite program under an existing contract with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Los Angeles. The service had been developing the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System jointly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but the White House scuttled that civil-military program last year.

The Pentagon has come up with a new program called the Defense Weather Satellite System and requested $352 million for the effort in 2011, but the House and Senate appropriations committees recommended providing just $175 million and $50 million, respectively. The Air Force under the continuing resolution has $390 million available for the full year for the legacy weather satellite program, but the service is allocating funds to the new program in line with the congressional marks, spokeswoman Tonya Racasner said Jan. 13.