Watchdog Agency Questions U.S. Air Force EPS Strategy

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has not adequately justified forgoing competition on an element of a secure satellite communications program serving forces operating north of the Arctic Circle, according to a new report by the investigative arm of Congress.

In a report released Aug. 23, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Pentagon had insufficient evidence for waiving a requirement to have multiple companies develop competitive prototype ground systems for the U.S. Air Force’s Enhanced Polar System (EPS). The EPS program will consist of extremely high frequency communications payloads hosted aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits.

The GAO said it would like to have seen a life-cycle cost-benefit analysis of a competitive risk reduction effort for the EPS Control and Planning Segment before the waiver was granted June 18. The Air Force did provide an estimate of $49 million but that figure was not reviewed by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Performance Evaluation office, which is a cost estimating organization, the GAO said.

In an Aug. 20 response to a draft of the report, Gil Klinger, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and intelligence, disputed the GAO’s finding, saying the Pentagon provided “sufficient evidence” to support the wavier.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems is the payload prime contractor for EPS. The payloads resemble those that the company provides for the Air Force’s geostationary-orbiting Advance Extremely High Frequency secure communications satellites, whose signals cannot reach extreme northern and southern latitudes.