— Disagreements across the
national security community on several questions surrounding a proposed commercial-like satellite reconnaissance system ultimately doomed the program, a senior
intelligence official said Oct. 30.
A dispersion of program authority, competing views on the applicability of presidential policy and a lack of consensus on requirements led Congress to withhold funding for the Broad Area Space-based Imagery Collector (BASIC) satellites in 2009, Alden Munson,
deputy director of national intelligence for acquisition, said in a speech at the Geoint 2008 Symposium in
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell agreed Sept. 8 to procure two commercial-class imaging satellites at a cost of $1.7 billion to provide so called Tier-2 imagery for military and intelligence users. Tier-2 generally refers to medium-resolution data covering broad swaths of territory; there is debate as to what portion of the government’s requirements in this area can be met with commercial imaging satellites.
The BASIC satellites were to be funded out of the military intelligence budget, and procured by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The ground segment was to be procured by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency using national intelligence program funding.
But in the classified annex to the 2009 defense spending bill, congressional appropriators declined to provide any funding for the BASIC satellites. Lawmakers also directed that $300 million allocated for the BASIC ground segment be withheld pending completion of a study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Defense on the broad range of national security imagery requirements.
Munson said there now is no funding planned or programmed to procure a Tier-2 system. However, there is money in the 2009 budget to improve the responsiveness and tasking coordination of commercial imaging satellites and to better integrate commercial data into the national imagery architecture, he said.
Competing views on BASIC were represented throughout the Defense Department, intelligence community, Congress, the White House and industry with “exquisite intensity,” Munson said. Among them were disagreements with regard to National Security Presidential Directive 27, which states the U.S. government will “rely to the maximum practical extent on U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities for filling imagery and geospatial needs for military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and civil users.” Many saw building government satellites nearly identical to those now operated by two commercial firms, DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., and GeoEye of Dulles,
, as counter to that policy.
There also was disagreement over whether the government should operate the BASIC satellites or eventually turn them over to industry, he said.
The requirements for the BASIC satellites also were hotly debated, Munson said. Military and intelligence users have different needs in terms of image quality, revisit time and sustainability for operations, and some have said single platforms cannot effectively serve both sides. U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, expressed that view in his speech here Oct. 30, saying that approach is “posing insurmountable problems, and those problems are going to get worse in the future.”
“We also had competing views on whether the achievable BASIC performance, which everyone agreed was well short of the full Tier-2 requirement, was even worth the money,” Munson said. “There were competing views on whether BASIC should be tasked and managed like [combatant commander] assets or fully integrated into the national system for geospatial imagery.”
The general lack of consensus on BASIC was compounded by the widely distributed decision authorities for the program, Munson said.
“I would observe that no commercial business trying to make a profit could succeed with the degree of misalignment of authority and responsibility that we just routinely accept across the government. That’s the way all the government business gets done.
“In the end, our community was unable to reconcile all these views in a timely manner, and I would observe those views are still very strongly held in some quarters.”