WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department will reduce spending on commercial satellite imagery as part of a broader initiative aimed at trimming $259 billion from projected U.S. military expenditures over the next five years, according to a Pentagon document released Jan. 26.

However, the document says the Pentagon still intends to expand industry’s imaging capacity, an indication that planned government-backed investments in new spacecraft will go forward. Commercial imagery was listed among several activities facing “substantial” reductions relative to previous spending plans, the document said, specifying purchases for imaging capacity that exceeds requirements.

The document, “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” was released at a Pentagon press conference that offered a glimpse of U.S. President Barack Obama’s defense budget request for 2013. The forthcoming request will total $525 billion for next year and reflects numerous force structure and other changes that the administration deemed necessary in light of a changing strategic and budgetary environment, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Earlier in January Panetta unveiled new strategic guidance that he and other defense officials say drove the decisions previewed Jan. 26. The guidance responds in part to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which directs the Pentagon to cut planned spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

Among the major programs being scaled back in the new budget are the Joint Strike Fighter and the Global Hawk surveillance drone, senior defense officials said. One variant of Global Hawk, the so-called Block 30 used for optical imaging, will be scrapped in favor of the less expensive U-2 manned spy plane, officials said. Development and production of other Global Hawk variants will continue, they said.

Meanwhile, spending on certain capabilities, among them space, cyber warfare and special operations forces, will be preserved and in some cases increased as the Pentagon moves to a leaner and more agile force and places greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.

The document said planned upgrades to space capabilities including GPS, the Space-Based Infrared System for missile warning and Advanced Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellites will be preserved in the request, expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill in mid-February. Programs to defend U.S. and European territory against ballistic missile attacks also will be preserved, officials said, but some regional interceptor programs will not see the funding increases that had been anticipated, officials said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States does not intend to decrease funding for regional missile defense programs but will seek to shift more funding responsibility to the U.S. allies involved. He did not cite examples, but the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has significant co-development programs under way with Israel and Japan.

Senior U.S. defense officials began hinting late last year that commercial imagery was being considered for reduced funding as the Pentagon and intelligence community seek to rein in budgets after a decade of soaring growth. The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is responsible for procuring commercial imagery for military and intelligence users from two principal providers: DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., and GeoEye of Dulles, Va.

Both companies are investing in new and highly capable satellites under an NGA program called EnhancedView that guarantees a certain level of annual business over a 10-year period. The combined value of the EnhancedView contracts, awarded in August 2010, is about $7.3 billion, with DigitalGlobe and GeoEye expected to expand their existing fleets and provide a minimum amount of imagery each year.

In a written response to a Space News query, GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O’Connell said cuts to commercial satellite imagery purchases would be inconsistent with the Pentagon’s new strategic guidance and resulting budget priorities outlined in January. “Moreover, cuts to the EnhancedView program would be counter to Presidential policy on commercial remote sensing,” he said. “One goal of that policy is to advance US leadership in space-based earth observation and geospatial technology. … It would seem cuts to the commercial imagery program would undermine this goal.”

O’Connell also noted that the new strategic guidance emphasizes greater reliance on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, including unmanned aircraft and satellites, and that commercial imagery can be readily shared with U.S. allies because it is not classified.

DigitalGlobe spokesman Robert Keosheyan, in a written statement to Space News provided Jan. 27, said: “The details of the NGA budget remain classified and yesterday’s statement regarding commercial imagery was subject to interpretation. We are confident in the value DigitalGlobe is delivering to the nation. With WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 already on orbit and WorldView-3 on schedule, we believe an objective analysis of our performance will also recognize the extraordinary value we deliver to taxpayers.”



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...