Lawmakers eye more money for Defense transformation

House slates Office of Force Transformation for major budget boost, even though it is a year late on launching a major initiative.

House lawmakers once again are hoping to significantly boost funding for the Pentagon office responsible for addressing 21st-century threats, even though the office is a year late on launching a major initiative.

In a bill to fund the Defense Department in fiscal 2006, House appropriators allocated $47 million for the Office of Force Transformation -- $27 million above President Bush's request. In its reauthorization bill for Pentagon programs, meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee said the office should receive $75 million next year.

Last year, lawmakers doubled the funding level above Bush's request.

The funding level "is because they fulfill a very important mission that no one at the Pentagon can do," said Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, a member of Armed Services. He said the office explores ideas and concepts that run counter to Pentagon culture in order to advance the military. Congress' top priority for the office is solving the armed services' "big space" problems, Thornberry said.

However, the transformation office is a year late in launching its first microsatellite. The department primarily utilizes a fleet of large, complicated satellites for high-end security needs.

The microsatellite would carry technology such as the Pentagon's top-secret Internet for commanders in the field so they can access satellite images in less than a day. It currently takes weeks or months for data from the larger satellites to reach the on-the-ground command level.

Thornberry said Thursday that the delay is because "it is a small office with only a few folks and so they are highly dependent on people they are working with." A Pentagon spokesman added that the microsatellite is ready to go, but the launch has been delayed due to technical difficulties with the rocket.

California Republican Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is hoping the microsatellite concept develops into a common satellite apparatus for all of the military services, his spokesman said Thursday. Hunter's panel directed the office to spend $20 million in order to mass produce common satellite equipment, which would decrease the time and cost of launching the larger satellites.

"Every space program that I hear of has enormous problems, in terms of its budget," said Thornberry, who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon's space initiatives.

The Armed Services panel added $50 million to the office's budget to continue developing technology for the small satellites, which the spokesman said would "stimulate industry's interest in miniaturization, increased sensitivity of sensors and new ways to operate satellites."

The United States is lagging behind other countries on launching the small satellites. An estimated 40 microsatellites have been launched over recent years. The smaller satellites cost $15 million to place into orbit. Larger satellites cost $20 million to $30 million to launch.