WASHINGTON — A U.S. Senate defense oversight panel recommended allocating $60 million next year to develop a low-cost weather satellite under the auspices of an office that the Pentagon has marked for closure.

In its markup of the 2013 defense authorization bill (S. 3254), the Senate Armed Service Committee flatly rejected the proposed elimination of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, which was established just a few years ago to develop space capabilities quickly in response to emerging military needs. The office’s first operational satellite, ORS-1, built to meet what Pentagon officials described as an urgent need for surveillance of Iraq and Afghanistan, was launched a year ago.

“The Committee finds the Department’s rationale, to cancel a program because it is successful — curious,” the lawmakers wrote in the report accompanying the bill. “The Committee rejects the proposed termination.”

The markup took place in May but the report was not published until June 4.

The panel recommended that funding for the quick-reaction weather satellite be taken from the $123.5 million appropriated in 2012 for a follow-on weather satellite system. The Air Force has yet to define that system and has proposed to use that funding over the next two years to develop next-generation weather sensors and system architectures.

The lawmakers authorized the $60 million transfer but deferred to their colleagues on the House and Senate appropriations committees to determine the precise allocation of the funds currently budgeted for the follow-on weather satellite system. “If funding is transferred for a low cost weather satellite, the committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to report to Congress no later than December 31, 2012, on the total cost and launch date for the satellite,” the report said.

The weather satellite should resemble the ORS-1 in terms of cost and technological simplicity and be launched within three years, the report said.

In its 2013 budget request, sent to Capitol Hill in February, the Air Force proposed closing the ORS office and spending $10 million to integrate ORS concepts into other military space programs. In addition to assigning the ORS office the task of building a weather satellite, the Senate panel recommended providing $45 million to keep the organization up and running, $20 million more than is allocated in the House version of the defense authorization bill, which was passed in May.

The Senate panel also recommended that the ORS office no longer report to the Air Force’s executive agent for space but instead report to the commander of the service’s Space and Missile Systems Center, according to the committee report. However, the report said the office should not be co-located with Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

The ORS program’s executive committee should include the commander of Air Force Space Command, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, the commander of U.S Strategic Command and the Pentagon’s executive agent for space, the report said.

Also like their counterparts in the House, the Senate authorizers rejected the Pentagon’s bid to discontinue the long-running Space Test Program, which is used to find rides to space for promising technologies and applications. The Senate measure provides $44.8 million for the program next year. The House version of the bill provided $45 million.

In other notable actions, the Senate committee also:

  • Allocated $560.7 million in 2013 funding for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor program. This is $100 million more than the agency requested for the procurement of additional interceptors.
  • Prohibited the obligation of funds for the Medium Extended Air Defense System in 2013. This would reduce the funding for the program by $400.9 million.
  • Allocated $100 million for the MDA’s joint U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs in 2013. The agency’s original request did not include any funding for those programs.


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