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Budget Bill Hits Military Satellite Programs

The U.S. Air Force’s EELV program (Delta 4 Heavy, above) is now slated to receive $368 million less in 2014 than the $1.8 billion requested by U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: United Launch Alliance photo

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan 2014 spending bill approved by Congress the week of Jan. 13 funds major U.S. military space programs at a combined $600 million less than the president’s proposed budget.

The omnibus spending bill, which funds the U.S. federal government, including the Pentagon, for the remainder of 2014, targets the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for the biggest reduction. The satellite launching program, a major source of congressional heartburn in recent years due to soaring costs, is now slated to receive $368 million less in 2014 than the $1.8 billion requested by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Virtually all of the Pentagon’s major unclassified satellite programs, meanwhile, received less money than the president requested for 2014. Together these five programs — Space Based Infrared System, GPS 3, Advanced Extremely High Frequency, Wideband Global Satcom and Mobile User Objective System — will get some $376 million less than their combined budgets for 2013. 

The massive Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014 (H.R. 3547) was unveiled Jan. 13 by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.). The bill was approved by the House and Senate Jan. 15 and Jan. 16, respectively, and signed into law Jan. 17.

Military Space Budget

In addition to trimming EELV funding, the bill divides the program budget into two separate accounts: an $809 million budget covering the hardware and services associated with individual launches, and a $678 million line for infrastructure and various other activities. Senate appropriators called for the change last year, saying it better reflects the Air Force’s EELV contracting arrangement with prime contractor United Launch Alliance of Denver, and will increase visibility into the program’s finances. 

The Pentagon has acknowledged that the EELV program’s complicated contracting arrangements — one contract for launch services; one for infrastructure and other activities — have made it difficult to identify potential cost savings.

The bill also includes $327 million for space situational awareness, an $80 million increase from last year but some $91 million less than the White House requested for 2014. Lawmakers said a one-year delay for an unnamed space situational awareness project, most likely the Air Force’s next-generation Space Fence, would save the service $85 million in 2014. 

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training of Moorestown, N.J., and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., have developed competing designs and prototypes for the new Space Fence, which would be capable of tracking greater numbers of smaller objects than current U.S. space surveillance assets. 

Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, has said he is hoping the Pentagon awards a contract this April.

Other noteworthy military space budget marks in the omnibus include:

  • The Air Force’s SBIRS missile warning satellite constellation stands to receive $873 million — $45 million less than the program’s 2013 budget and $90 million less than the request.
     
  • GPS 3, the Air Force’s next-generation positioning, navigation and timing satellite system which is still in development, gets $652 million — roughly $130 million less than last year and $47 million below the request. Work on the GPS 3 ground system, meanwhile, gets $373.5 million, which is about $53 million more than last year but roughly $10 million less than the White House says the project needs.
     
  • The military’s rapid-response space office, known as the Operationally Responsive Space Office, gets $10 million. The Air Force is seeking to dismantle the office and transfer its activities to Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. The office is funded by the Air Force but reports to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
 

Follow Mike on Twitter: @Gruss_SN

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