Pentagon Nears Decision on DWSS Microwave Instrument

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A final decision on which of several competing microwave instruments will fly on the new U.S. Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) is expected to be made in late February by the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, a U.S. Air Force official said Jan. 26.

The Air Force’s acting director of the Defense Weather Systems Directorate, John Baldonado, told reporters at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Seattle that the Air Force in the next few months expects to finalize a new contract with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems to serve as the integrator and satellite platform provider for the new system.

The DWSS constellation was created from the fallout of the troubled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was dismantled by the White House in February 2010. NPOESS was a joint program among the Air Force, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Following the divorce, the Air Force was directed to build weather satellites for military users, while the civil agencies pursue a separate weather |constellation.

Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman was the NPOESS prime contractor, and over the past year pieces of its contract have been broken off and transferred to NASA. The government may end up paying contract termination costs to Northrop Grumman, Baldonado said.

“There are potential termination costs and we take that into account here,” he said. “The restructuring is ongoing and will be ongoing for the next several months. We are working very closely with Northrop Grumman and also with our NOAA/NASA partners to minimize any impacts … to the program in this restructuring of the contract.”

The Air Force in August presented to Congress a plan for DWSS, which will include two instruments that were planned for NPOESS. The service also knew it would need a microwave sensor at least as capable as those on legacy weather satellites. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing the Microwave Imager Sounder that was planned for NPOESS, but the Air Force in the fall solicited information from industry on potential alternatives.

The Air Force received information on potential microwave instruments from Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Co., Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co., Baldonado said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom Sheridan, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, has made an instrument recommendation to Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, but Baldonado would not reveal the recommendation.

Carter is expected to make a final decision at a Materiel Development Decision meeting scheduled for Feb. 23, he said.