WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill June 17 that supports the U.S. Air Force’s plan to buy a pair of secure communications satellites with a fixed-price contract provided the service can prove it would cost 20 percent less  than buying the satellites separately.

The committee’s version of the 2012 defense authorization bill tracks closely with a bill its House of Representatives counterpart passed in May, though the Senate supports the Pentagon’s plan to pursue new options for buying commercial satellite communications bandwidth.

The U.S. Air Force in its 2012 budget request submitted to Congress in February sought $552.8 million for a down payment on two Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites. The service asked lawmakers to provide advance appropriations for the next several years in order to avoid the funding spikes and troughs that can adversely affect the industrial base and drive up costs.

House authorizers and appropriators supported the notion of buying the fifth and sixth AEHF craft under a fixed-price contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif. But they were not willing to provide advance appropriations. The Senate Armed Services Committee likewise authorized funding for only a single year.

The Senate committee would only allow the Air Force to issue a two-satellite contract if it could prove cost savings would reach 20 percent compared to buying each satellite individually, and the resulting savings would be used to develop new capabilities that could be inserted into later AEHF spacecraft, according to language in the report accompanying the bill. Air Force officials have said they expect to save at least 10 percent with a two-satellite contract.

The Senate committee is at odds with its House counterpart on a new Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) program that would initiate a long-term lease of a commercial communications satellite. DISA is the contracting agent that acquires commercial satellite communications capacity for all of the military except for the Navy. Commercial capacity is typically purchased on an annual basis, and the Assured Satcom Services in Single Theater program sought to buy or lease a commercial satellite for as long as 15 years.

The House Armed Services Committee’s defense authorization bill recommend cutting $416 million of the $500.9 million DISA requested for the program and using $335 million of that amount to buy a ninth Wideband Global Satcom communications spacecraft from Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif. The House Appropriations Committee followed that recommendation in the spending bill it passed June 14.

While Senate authorizers directed DISA to look at a number of different options for procuring commercial satellite communications bandwidth,  they did not rule out the approach of the Assured Satcom Services in Single Theater program. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up its version of the 2012 defense spending bill.

The Senate committee’s bill recommended eliminating $205 million of the $282.2 million in procurement funding that the Navy is seeking to buy launch services for the fourth Mobile User Objective System spacecraft planned for launch in 2014. The report accompanying the bill said this request was in advance of need. If the reduction stands, the Navy will not be able to buy the launch until 2013, pushing the launch date into 2015, though the specific launch slot for that spacecraft will not be assigned until 12 months prior to launch, Navy spokesman Steven Davis said June 24.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2012 defense authorization bill would also:

Require the secretary of defense to assess the ability of GPS receivers to receive position, navigation and timing signals from space without interruption for the next two years;

Require the secretary of commerce to review regulations that prohibit U.S. firms from selling commercial satellite imagery with resolution finer than 0.5 meters;

Allow the Air Force to enter into cooperative arrangements to share launch range costs with commercial providers;

Recommend adding $20 million to put nuclear detonation detectors on the fifth and sixth Space Based Infrared System satellites and adding $15 million for the system’s ground stations and sensor exploitation;

Recommend reducing by $40 million the Air Force’s $463.1 million request for the GPS 3 program as a result of a service decision to buy two satellites per year instead of three; and

Recommend adding $6 million to the Air Force’s $274 million request for space situational awareness systems to analyze the incorporation of other space-based systems into the architecture.



House Appropriators Slam USAF Satellite Block Buy Proposal

U.S. Air Force To Adopt Block Buys of Satellites