BOSTON – The 2009 Defense Department budget request that will be unveiled next month will reflect the Pentagon’s decision to scale back spending on its most advanced set of communications satellites, according to Defense Department and industry sources.
The reduction of more than $200 million in 2009 compared to the amount that the Air Force planned to request as of February 2007, combined with a reduction of about $4 billion in planned spending through 2013 could delay the launch of the first Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) Communications System spacecraft two to four years, the sources said.
However, the military could opt to keep the first T-Sat launch on track for 2016, but scale back some of the capabilities now planned for that spacecraft, as well as the one that will follow it, the sources said.
The U.S. Air Force had planned to pick a single prime contractor in late 2007 to build the T-Sat satellites. Two industry teams are competing for that contract. Those teams are led respectively by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis.
The award of that contract is now on hold pending the completion of an internal Pentagon review led by the Program Analysis and Evaluation directorate that is looking at options for the way ahead for the T-Sat effort, the sources said. That review will wrap up in April, but a more likely award date is no earlier than July, the completion date for T-Sat contract extensions that the Air Force awarded to Lockheed Martin and Boeing Jan. 7. Further contract extensions are unlikely, the sources said.
Lockheed Martin and Boeing had incorporated contingency plans for dealing with reductions to planned spending in the T-Sat bids they turned in last summer, according to industry sources. However, the expected $4 billion reduction through 2013 likely would force either contractor to begin the effort by implementing its plan for the worst-case funding scenario. nd since further funding instability is possible, the Air Force has asked them both to turn in by the end of January new program plans based on the expected reduction, the sources said.
Waiting until July for the contract award also would give program officials more time to brief senior decision makers on the new way ahead, the Defense Department and industry sources said. The Air Force may opt to brief officials from the Government Accountability Office as well in order to ensure that the revised strategy does not violate government procurement regulations as it may be substantially revised from what was outlined in the previous request for proposals, and a protest from the losing team is likely, an industry source said.
Options under discussion for the future include delaying the first T-Sat launch, and buying at least one more Wideband Global Satcom System spacecraft, the Defense Department and industry sources said. The Pentagon launched the first Wideband Global spacecraft in October, and currently has plans to buy five more.
However, the rapidly increasing communications requirements of U.S. forces could lead the Pentagon to buy more Wideband Global satellites regardless of whether T-Sat is delayed, the sources said. The Army recently conducted a study that indicated a total of 13 Wideband Global satellites would be necessary even if T-Sat stays on track, though buying more than three additional satellites is not likely due to financial constrains, the sources said.
The additional Wideband Global satellites could be modified to handle at least the Internet Protocol routing capability envisioned for T-Sat, the sources said. However, a Defense Department source said modifying the Wideband Global satellites would require significant work that could add cost and risk, reducing the benefit that could come from buying copies of the satellites.
Other options include scaling back the capabilities on the first two T-Sat satellites, which could entail reducing their bandwidth capacity and dropping the planned laser intersatellite links in order to pass information at unprecedented speeds, the sources said. The laser links also were intended to connect to space-based intelligence assets like the Space Radar satellites, which are now unlikely to launch before 2018, which would coincide with the third and following T-Sat satellites if the program is kept on track, industry sources said.
Congressional direction to purchase a fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite, was a factor in the Pentagon’s decision to take money out of the planned T-Sat budget. Sources said many of the requirements that are specific to the needs of nuclear missions could be met prior to 2020 by Advanced EHF, rather than the first two T-Sat satellites. That would help bring down the cost of the first two T-Sats and keep their initial launch dates on track, while still meeting the needs of tactical users who need to communicate without stopping to erect antennas, the sources said.
Other scenarios under consideration if the initial T-Sat launches are delayed include buying more commercial satellite communications services, the sources said.
Stuart Linsky, vice president for the T-Sat program at Northrop Grumman Space Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif., which is building the payload for Lockheed Martin’s team, said
options like increased reliance on the Wideband Global satellites or commercial services do not offer the increased security envisioned with T-Sat. As U.S. forces become increasingly dependent on satellite communications in the years to come, they also become increasingly vulnerable if those links are not highly protected, he said.