U.S. Air Force To Adopt Block Buys of Satellites

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The U.S. Air Force plans to implement a new acquisition strategy that relies more on multisatellite purchases with the intent of eliminating the funding fits and starts that have plagued space programs in recent years, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said Jan. 12.

More stable research and development funding for space programs and increased use of fixed-price contracts will also be elements of the new Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency effort that begins with the 2012 budget request, Donley said at an Air Force Association media briefing.

The first space system to receive this treatment will be the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) secure communications fleet, Donley said. AEHF prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is currently under contract to deliver four spacecraft. The Air Force is also likely to use a block buy approach for the fourth and fifth Space Based Infrared System spacecraft, a government source said.

The AEHF system is a prime example of how production breaks in spacecraft programs result in soaring costs. The Air Force originally planned to buy three AEHF spacecraft before moving on to the next-generation Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) system. Congress in 2007 ordered the purchase of the fourth AEHF satellite, and the following year the Pentagon canceled the T-Sat program. The four-year break in AEHF production caused an increase in price from $939 million for the third satellite to more than $2 billion for the fourth satellite.