Senate Defense Appropriators Fund ORS Office, Space Test Program

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UPDATED Aug. 3, 5:44 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate appropriators have recommended providing substantial funding next year for a pair of military space procurement and technology-testing activities that are viewed by many as incubators for innovation but which the Pentagon has marked for termination.

In marking up its version of the 2013 defense spending bill July 31, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee also funded capability upgrades for the U.S. Air Force’s secure communications and missile warning satellite systems. Other beneficiaries of the proposed legislation are various cooperative missile defense programs with Israel and with Germany and Italy. The full Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the bill on Aug 2.

According to a markup summary issued July 31 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the proposed legislation provides $100 million for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office and $35 million for the Space Test Program. The recommendation puts the senators at odds not only with the U.S. Defense Department but also with their counterparts in the House, who went along with the Pentagon’s closeout plan.

The Air Force-led ORS Office was established in 2007 as part of a push to field space-based capabilities rapidly in response to emerging military needs.

Several ORS satellites have been launched to date, prominently among them the ORS-1 optical surveillance satellite launched in June 2011 in response to demand from U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But in its 2013 budget request submitted in February, the Pentagon proposed closing the office, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and allocating $10 million to incorporate unspecified ORS tenets into other military space programs. The move drew criticism from various corners, and both the House and Senate armed services panels, which are responsible for policy and setting overall defense spending limits, recommended keeping the office open next year.

The Senate subcommittee’s proposed Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2013 did not specify how the $100 million in ORS funding, if ultimately approved, should be spent. The Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee has recommended that the ORS Office begin work next year on a low-cost weather satellite, while the office itself has a number of initiatives on the table.

The Space Test Program, meanwhile, is a long-running activity in which the Air Force finds rides to space for promising technologies or concepts developed by various Pentagon organizations. Defense Department officials this year cited budget woes in proposing to end the program.

In its markup summary, the Senate appropriations panel said the proposed bill reverses funding cuts to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure satellite communications system and to the Space Based Infrared System missile warning system. The funding is intended “to mature next-generation technologies, such as hosted payloads, radiation hardened components and affordability enhancements,” the markup summary said.

The lawmakers were not more specific, but the House Appropriations Committee has recommended against funding a follow-on to the successful Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload missile warning experiment that launched last year. The Air Force’s AEHF budget request, meanwhile, does not include funds for certain capability enhancements that had been planned in previous budget years.

 

Boost for Missile Defense

The Senate appropriators recommended adding more than $500 million to the Pentagon’s overall request for the Missile Defense Agency, with a large portion of the increase going to cooperative programs with Israel, according to the markup summary. Of that increase, $168.9 million is earmarked for unspecified cooperative programs with Israel, with another $211 million allocated to the Iron Dome program intended to defend against the short-range rocket attacks to which Israel is routinely subjected.

The Missile Defense Agency’s 2013 budget request included $99.8 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperative programs, a sharp reduction from the $235.7 million appropriated for this year.

The subcommittee markup also includes $380.8 million of funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a missile defense system being developed jointly with Germany and Italy, according to report language drafted for the 2013 defense appropriations bill that was released Aug. 2. The White House requested $409 million for MEADS next year, funding that would be used to complete testing of the system, after which time the U.S. government intends to withdraw from the program.

But numerous U.S. lawmakers are opposed to funding the program next year. The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee is alone among the four congressional panels with Pentagon oversight to recommend funding program next year.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters July 31 that his subcommittee’s proposal for MEADS will be a point of contention as the defense spending bill moves forward. He said he does not favor funding MEADS next year.