The U.S. Defense Department’s controversial Space Radar surveillance program
run out of money and is on hold
pending completion of
a congressionally mandated analysis of alternatives to the current effort, according to congressional and industry sources
“It’s not officially dead,” said one congressional source. “But the program of record is pretty much dead.”
This aide said
the program, which is still in the study phase, was burning through cash
at a higher rate than could be sustained by its available 2008 budget
. The aide said
program managers would have had to slow or effectively stop spending so as not to violate
report language accompanying the 2008 defense authorization bill that limited Space Radar
spending to $40 million pending completion of the analysis of alternatives. The
Space Radar budget is classified.
Space Radar is a joint U.S. Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) effort to field a constellation of up to
nine satellites serving the military and intelligence community. The system is intended to collect imagery and detect movement on the ground.
of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., are leading the teams competing for the Space Radar prime contract. The companies have been developing competing designs for the system under study contracts; both received $49 million contract extensions in January 2007 that were supposed to carry the work through April 2009.
Plans to award the prime contract have been pushed back repeatedly due in large part to congressional resistance to the program. As of this past October, the NRO and Air Force were planning to propose in the 2009 budget request a scaled-back flight program that one senior official said was still a significant operational capability.
This no longer appears to be the case, although the program was included in the Air Force’s 2009 budget request.
NRO spokesman Rick Oborn declined to comment on the program’s status. Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Monica Bland referred questions to the NRO.
“Our team has performed well in demonstrating our technological readiness essential for introducing Space Radar, achieving major risk reduction milestones,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Steve Tatum said via
e-mail. “We stand ready to support the government’s effort to address any requirements and plans for providing this critical capability.”
He declined comment on the program’s status.
Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Diane Murphy did not respond by press time to requests for comment.
Congress’ longstanding skepticism toward the program is due not only to cost and risk concerns but also the
inability of the military and intelligence community to agree on requirements and cost sharing.
In late 2006, senior U.S. intelligence officials suggested the longstanding impasse had been broken with the agreement by the intelligence community to include funding for the program in its 2007 budget request. The report accompanying the
2008 intelligence authorization bill
“basic questions about the Space Radar architecture are unanswered.
2008 Defense Authorization Act directed Defense Secretary
Robert Gates and Mike McConnell,
intelligence, to perform the
alternatives. The accompanying
report noted that Congress was “aware of several alternative space-based radar concepts that have been proposed over the past year that could lower technical risk and development costs.”
The final analysis is due by March 1.
“It’s absolutely not clear what”
technologies or acquisition approach the Pentagon and intelligence community will pursue,
the congressional source said.
“The one thing that is clear is that this has to be joint. It has to do what all the warfighting communities want it to do.”
The NRO operates highly classified radar satellites for intelligence gathering, with the latest series being built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., under the Future Imagery Architecture program. Until recently, plans called for the Space Radar to replace the Boeing-built satellites.
Boeing, for its part, has been shopping an alternative to the Space Radar based on a different sensor technology than what Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have been working on