Congress cuts funds for traditional Defense satellite programs

Amid concerns about high costs and schedule delays, Congress has cut funding for traditional satellite programs at the Defense Department, while strongly endorsing a new Air Force project to develop small, affordable satellites.

The conference report on the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill passed by Congress said the House and Senate Armed Services committees were concerned about the priorities, costs and requirements in current satellite acquisitions. The report said that certain programs "have been terminated early to free up funding for next-generation satellite systems, and new programs have been started with immature technologies and without clear and feasible requirements."

Some satellite programs have had overly aggressive schedules, insufficient funding and inadequate personnel, the report said, resulting in a national space program "plagued with schedule delays, technical difficulties and cost overruns."

This language echoes the conclusions reached by the Government Accountability Office in a report (GAO-07-730) released in April. It said the majority of large Defense space acquisition programs over the past two decades have experienced problems that have driven up costs (sometimes more than 100 percent above original estimates) and lengthened schedules.

The conference report said the committees strongly support the alternatives offered by the Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space Office established this May. Its goal is to develop new satellites in months rather than years for projects such as the next generation of the Global Positioning System and the Transformational Communications Satellite system. The office also is working on developing satellites that could be launched in days or weeks to replace aging satellites.

The authorization bill slashed $100 million from the Pentagon's requested $587.2 million budget for the next-generation GPS III satellite due to concerns by the Armed Services committees that the Air Force may be adding capabilities -- such as spot beams to cover a particular portion of the globe and cross links between satellites -- that may no longer be required.

The authorization bill also cut the requested budget for the Transformational Satellite Program by $150 million to $814 million. The budget for the program, which is intended to provide Defense users with broadband communications, has jumped from $15 billion to $17.5 billion, with the launch date pushed back from 2011 to 2015.

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