COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. Air Force is now targeting March 2013 for the long-delayed award of a contract, potentially worth $3 billion over 10 years, to consolidate its launch range support and modernization functions, according to a service official.

Air Force acquisition officials are fine-tuning the requirements for the Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract (LISC), said Doug Loverro, executive director of the service’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. Officials have not yet finalized small-business set-asides — range support activities can be pulled out of the LISC umbrella and awarded separately to small and disadvantaged businesses, he said.

Six U.S. industry teams plan to compete for the LISC prime contract, one of the few large U.S. military space procurements on the horizon.

“It’s a huge scope of work,” said Michael Maier, president and LISC program manager of Inspace 21, a joint venture of CSC of Falls Church, Va., and Honeywell Corp. of Morristown, N.J., that is among the competitors. The prime contractor, he said, will be responsible for managing the 60-80 operations carried out each day at the ranges, maintaining tracking radars and weather sensors; and upgrading and replacing infrastructure, much of which is becoming outdated.

“It’s big and there aren’t that many ‘big,’” said Michael R. Wilson, president of ITT Exelis Information Systems of Herndon, Va., which is teaming with BAE Systems of Arlington, Va., and L-3 Communications of New York for the LISC contract. The companies announced the creation of the IBL JV LLC joint venture for the LISC program April 17.

The biggest space contracts up for competition these days are in the operations and sustainment realm, as opposed to platform manufacturing, Wilson said in an interview here April 17 at the 28th National Space Symposium.

Loverro said during an April 18 interview that Air Force Space Command officials are working with staff at the service’s headquarters to develop the small business set-aside for launch range support.

“We are proposing a series of functional tasks, which we think are good opportunities for small business to prime on, and those are the recommendations that we are bringing through the system right now,” Loverro said. “I’m not at liberty to tell you what those tasks are right now. It is still in discussion.”

Maier said the Air Force is being careful to identify set-aside work that does not undermine the efficiencies to be gained by consolidating the core range support functions currently performed under three separate contracts, each held by a different industry team. Examples of potential small-business set-asides include maintenance and support of down-range tracking stations such as those on Antigua and Ascension islands, he said.

The LISC program encompasses operations, support, maintenance, modernization and logistics at the Air Force’s two main launch ranges: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Currently a Raytheon-CSC team supports Cape Canaveral; InDyne Corp. supports Vandenberg, and ITT Exelis provides sustainment at both sites.

Operational functions performed at the ranges include launch vehicle command destruct, communications, weather monitoring, radar operations, telemetry, data handling and modeling and simulation. The ranges conduct satellite launches, ballistic missile tests and a wide variety of other activities.

Although there has been talk over the years about reducing the time it takes to reconfigure the ranges between launches of different vehicles, the Air Force has laid out no specific range-turnaround requirement for LISC, Maier said. Typically it takes about 48 hours to reconfigure the range and cutting that time in half is simply a matter of personnel and money, he said.

What the Air Force has been clear about is that the LISC program is expected to cost less than the current, three-contract arrangement, industry officials said. “There is a clear expectation of a reduction of cost,” said David Melcher, president and chief executive of ITT Exelis.

The LISC bidding teams all have considerable experience in range operations and similar activities. Reston, Va.-based InDyne is teaming with Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions of Gaithersburg, Md., and URS Corp. of San Francisco in a joint venture dubbed Consolidated Range Enterprise, or Core.

Lockheed Martin is a 50 percent owner, along with Boeing, of Denver-based United Launch Alliance, which launches satellites for the U.S. government, a relationship Maier said raises conflict of interest concerns with the Core bid. Loverro said he was aware of those concerns but expressed confidence in Lockheed Martin’s ability to satisfactorily mitigate any issues.

The other LISC contenders are: Raytheon Technical Services of Reston, which is leading a team that includes General Dynamics of Falls Church, ASRC Aerospace Corp., ARES Corp, Schafer Corp. and World Technical Services; Boeing Defense, Space and Security of St. Louis, which is bidding with SAIC of McLean, Va., LJT & Associates of Columbia, Md., and Global AOC World Services of Irvine, Calif.; and Northrop Grumman Technical Services of Herndon.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...