BOSTON – The U.S. Air Force’s budget request for 2008 likely will reflect delays to a new generation of laser-linked communications satellites and to planned upgrades to a ground-based space-surveillance system, according to Pentagon sources and documents.


A draft request for proposals issued Jan. 10 listed late 2014 as the initial launch date for the Transformational Satellite Communications System (T-Sat), a schedule that is consistent with what the Air Force laid out last year in its 2007 budget request. But Pentagon sources say budget pressure from both the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force likely will push the inaugural T-Sat launch out to no earlier than 2016.


Maj. Regina Winchester, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, declined to comment on the service’s 2008 budget request before it goes to Capitol Hill in early February.


The Pentagon had hoped to begin launching the T-Sat satellites in 2009 when it began studying the concept in late 2001. But Congress, concerned about the technical challenges, repeatedly applied budgetary brakes to the effort. The T-Sat satellites will include laser crosslinks and Internet protocol router technology to dramatically increase the communications bandwidth available to


The Air Force last year unveiled a new plan for T-Sat that preserves these advanced components but with scaled-back capabilities on the first two satellites. Congress trimmed $130 million from the Air Force’s $867 T-Sat request for 2007, a far less dramatic reduction than in years past.


Teams led by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of
St. Louis
are competing to build the T-Sat satellites. Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of the Air Force Space and
Los Angeles
, said in a November interview that he expected the Air Force to select a prime contractor in late 2007.


Meanwhile, a Pentagon budget document indicates that the Air Force’s plans to upgrade its ground-based network of space-surveillance radar stations, known as the Space Fence, may have to be slowed down as well.


The Space Fence has operated for more than 40 years and consists of VHF radar stations deployed across the southern tier of the United States that track objects as small as 30 centimeters across as they pass overhead.


The Air Force had planned to switch from VHF radar to S-band radar around 2013 in order to enable the Space Fence to track even smaller objects, but Pentagon documents indicate that planned spending on the effort has been scaled back considerably from what was envisioned last year.


According to the document, the Air Force will ask Congress for $4 million for the Space Fence in 2008, about $10 million less than envisioned in the out-year spending plan that accompanied the service’s 2007 request.


For subsequent years, the gap between the two funding profiles for the Space Fence is even wider. Last year’s projections for 2009 and 2010 were $75 million and $106.5 million, respectively. The revised projections for those years are $13.9 million and $65.6 million, respectively.


Lt. Col. John Brendle, program manager for the Space Fence at the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in
, said in a written response to questions that the program office is still assessing the schedule impact of the latest funding plan.


The Air Force plans to hold an open competition for a contractor to upgrade the Space Fence. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., completed a study in September intended to identify requirements and tradeoffs that might affect the cost and capability of the proposed upgrades.


The Air Force had intended to release a draft request for proposals for the Space Fence upgrades in April 2007, to be followed by a formal bid solicitation in November 2007, according to a service document dated Dec. 6. However, an updated schedule issued Jan. 10 says the draft request for proposals is now expected in February 2008, with the formal request for proposals to follow in January 2009.