U.S. Air Force Draws Final Curtain on DWSS Program

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has officially stopped work on the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), which arose from the ashes of a canceled civil-military program only to be rejected by Congress.

In a Jan. 23 press release, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles said it took the action to implement the 2012 defense authorization and appropriations bills, both of which were signed into law late last year. “Today the Air Force Defense Meteorological System Program constellation of satellites continues to provide high-quality and timely weather data to forecasters with two more satellites yet to be launched,” the service said.

The Air Force requested $445 million in 2012 for DWSS, which was under contract to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 provided $43 million to terminate DWSS and $125 million for an unspecified follow-on weather satellite program.

U.S. Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said in a recent interview that the military has unique requirements for weather data that cannot be satisfied with civilian satellites.

The DWSS program was hatched in 2010 when the White House terminated the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, which was behind schedule and well over its planned budget. The White House directed the civilian National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Pentagon to pursue separate systems.

From the beginning, however, Congress expressed strong reservations about DWSS.

Jim Hart, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said the company received a stop-work order on DWSS Jan. 17 following congressional direction to terminate the program. “No Northrop Grumman performance issues were cited by the Air Force,” he said.

Hart said the DWSS program accounted for 170 jobs at Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach facility. “We’re doing everything we can to find other assignments for those people but there could be layoffs,” he said.