commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the
space, I feel compelled to respond to your recent editorial titled “A Question of Sustainability” [March 3, page 18]. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program has achieved an unprecedented record of launching
missions to space: 12 consecutive successes for 12 missions. In 2006, RAND produced the results of a comprehensive study, the conclusion which can be summarized with: “The EELV development programs are true successes and are critical to national security. The Air Force must rigorously protect this capability with resources adequate to sustain these programs.”
Your editorial stated that costs are rising. The current budget has in fact increased, but this is not increased costs, but more launches within that period. In addition, some costs have increased as necessary to meet
U.S. President George W. Bush’s policy for assured access to space, which requires the capabilities necessary to launch national security payloads whenever needed. The reference to the large block buy made in 1998
did lower previous years’ annual appropriations. This was due to the benefits expected from a robust commercial market and commensurate low pricing by the contractors. These impacts have already been accounted for in all EELV funding and budget estimates;
there are no future impacts to this action.
One of EELV’s key objectives is and has been to reduce the cost of space launch by 25 percent
to 50 percent
over the cost of heritage launch vehicle programs. The editorial suggests that this goal will not be achieved. To the contrary, both the Department of Defense’s Cost Analysis Improvement Group
and the Government Accountability Office
have confirmed cost savings estimates through 2020 that the EELV systems have
reduced costs relative to the heritage launch in excess of the 25 percent
. Had EELV not been developed, today’s satellite payloads would have been far more expensive to launch.
The recent contracts mentioned in the article were in fact Undefinitized Contract Actions (UCA) agreements to authorize the contractor to continue vital work at a cost not-to-exceed.
The final contract negotiation to include specific scope of work and associated costs are currently under way. The content of the UCAs include cost for several elements spanning various time frames, therefore simple multiplication of the figures results in erroneous information. For example, the 2009
budget has funded
$840 million for the program in 2009
(not the $1.5 billion
quoted in the editorial). The number and configuration of launch vehicles during the time period included will also affect the level of costs.
With regards to the new ( ) joint venture
government is already benefiting from the synergies of a single point of action in cost, performance, communication and procurement. This is evidenced by the 100 percent
success rate for EELV. Looking forward, ULA is expected to yield additional benefits and cost savings. Currently the U.S. Air Force
is evaluating ULA’s proposal outlining the savings from the consolidation of the Atlas and programs. The results are expected to yield substantial future annual savings.
With ongoing modernization of the Air Force range and launch infrastructure, our EELV systems will continue to support the marketplace for civil, scientific
and commercial space launch with the highest levels of launch reliability and availability in the world. The efforts of the Air Force and ULA team are fulfilling its mission to provide the nation with assured access to space. Building on the record of success, the future consolidation savings and an aggressive accomplishment of lean initiatives, without question the EELV program will be sustained efficiently and effectively.
Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel
Commander, U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center
It is unfortunate that Craig Cooning of Boeing [Profile, “Selling Satellites in a World of Tight Budgets,” April 7, page 62]
chooses to perpetuate an often repeated but untrue assertion that the cost to the military per transponder on the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) system is $300,000 (presumably per year), whereas the equivalent cost from a commercial operator is $1 million. Both the government and the private sector have the same basic categories of costs associated with satellite broadband provision; a satellite must be designed, built, launched and operated. The government procurement process, however, and its associated requirements make the design and build phases more expensive. Likewise, operating costs are higher for government-run satellite systems.
Typically, the government’s budget for a satellite development program does not load in the government resources used for the procurement, launch, operations or terminal development. As a result, the budget accounting of the program severely undercounts the actual costs to the taxpayer.
A large commercial fleet operator, such as , provides global coverage, redundancy
and risk mitigation, all while spreading costs over many users. Intelsat also provides extensive terrestrial connectivity, further lowering costs compared to a government buy scenario. Commercial operators bring capacity into service within two to three
years. Government programs, like WGS, can take upwards of 10 years from program start to service delivery, further increasing costs.
Vice President, External Relations Intelsat General Corp.
Better Get It Right
Discussing Iran’s nuclear and space launch capabilities Victor Zaborskiy
[Commentary, “Iran’s SLV Program: 1st Reactions and Implications,”
, page 27] writes “… the Israeli government most likely will request more firm security guarantees from the United States, possibly including a commitment to launch a strike against Iran if Teheran’s attack against Israel is presumed imminent” (emphasis added).
This is a call for war with Iran based on an assessment by a security apparatus that couldn’t tell the difference between an Iraq with or without weapons of mass destruction
conducting daily overflights. The chance of this same apparatus getting the intelligence right on Iran’s intentions should be regarded as approaching zero. Zaborskiy is
calling for war with Iran whenever the president feels like it.
We know that Iran is developing space launch, and the only difference between a launcher and a missile is the software in the guidance computer. We know Iran is developing nuclear power, and the hardest problems of nuclear weapon development can be solved developing civilian nuclear power. It is quite likely that Iran will someday develop nuclear weapons. There are at least two potential reasons:
They wish to launch a nuclear attack on Israel or Europe. In either case, Iran would be obliterated within days by hundreds, if not thousands, of nuclear weapons launched by the victim and by America. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems unlikely. Supporting a few hundred suicide bombers is one thing, committing national suicide is another.
They wish to deter an attack by the United States. Why would they believe America would attack them? Well, the United States
has been openly discussing an attack on Iran for years. At one point, there were discussions of nuclear attacks on Iran to destroy underground bunkers. That is, of course, just talk. Then there is history.
America overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and the
United States supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s during his war of aggression against Iran
– a war
that killed a million people. To be fair, Iran did imprison a hundred or so U.S. diplomats
The second option seems, at least to me, a couple of orders of magnitude more likely. After all, the Iranian government has an obligation to prevent attacks on their territory, and America has demonstrated a willingness to invade Iran’s neighbors based on faulty intelligence (Iraq). Iran can’t possibly match America’s conventional military strength. Iran probably remembers that nuclear weapons successfully deterred America from invading Cuba, and
U.S. policy towards North Korea changed after a single, partially successful nuclear bomb test. A few dozen nuclear-tipped missiles would almost certainly prevent an American attack.
This has profound implications for U.S. policy. We’d better get it right.