August 24, 2005

U.S. military space efforts face rising costs, delays

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Multibillion-dollar U.S. military
space programs face rising costs and delays, raising serious
questions about the viability of some of these ambitious
programs, defense analysts say.

But industry and government officials argue that space has
become so integral to modern war -- providing key targeting,
navigational and reconnaissance data -- that Congress and the
military have little choice but to continue pumping
increasingly scarce money into these programs.

They also say that critical studies in recent years have
prompted reforms of space programs and satellites are
delivering sophisticated capabilities to soldiers every day.

"Clearly there are problems, but we are dealing with them,"
said Tom Jurkowsky, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp., the
top U.S. defense contractor and a key player in the military
space sector.

"Despite the lingering hangover that results from some of
these issues, we believe a lot of progress has been made
operationally and in terms of program acquisition," he said.

Loren Thompson, top analyst for the Virginia-based
Lexington Institute, cites rare accord between lawmakers in the
House of Representatives and Senate about "the seriousness of
problems afflicting national security space," noting this had
already led to big cuts in space programs for fiscal 2006.

Congressional aides say they expect tough hearings and
debate on space programs, which account for about $25 billion
of classified and unclassified spending each year, as lawmakers
hammer out details of the 2006 budget this fall.

Thompson said lawmakers had ample reason for concern.

"Every one of the next-generation constellations (of
satellites) being developed has encountered unanticipated cost
growth, schedule slippage and technical difficulties," he wrote
in a report to be formally issued next month.

"The problems are now so pervasive that they raise doubts
about whether government and industry can successfully execute
military plans for space," he said.

Newly minted intelligence chief John Negroponte is
reviewing two classified satellite programs being developed by
Lockheed and Boeing Co., which have both seen major cost
increases in recent years, and will make recommendations on
their future next month, congressional sources said, confirming
a story reported in The Washington Post last week.

Jay DeFrank, a former top Pentagon official now working as
executive director for research at the Space Foundation, a
nonpartisan Washington institute, agreed the sector faced many
problems, but denied there was a full-blown crisis.

"I don't think there's a crisis," DeFrank said, adding that
a huge amount of planning was aimed at preventing the dreaded
"satellite gap" that would leave a key part of a constellation
of communications or reconnaissance satellites die before its
replacement was launched.

He attributed the current problems to a tendency by
government to continually increase requirements for the new
satellites, prompting industry -- particularly in a tight
budget climate -- to "over promise" or underbid projects.

But he said the problems also stemmed partly from the sheer
difficulty of designing systems that would be used for decades
to come, even as war demands became more complex.

Victoria Samson at the non-profit Center for Defense
Information agreed, saying that, by the time the new satellites
were put into orbit, they were already seen as "legacy"

She cited the rapidly growing number of agencies that now
wanted downlinks and data feeds from the government satellites
and the lack of oversight of subcontractors as contributing to
the problems.

"There's plenty of blame to go around," she said.

Congress was growing "frustrated with having to give
funding to programs that don't provide what they're supposed
to," she said, urging the U.S. military to take a hard look at
what space assets were truly needed, and on what timetable.

Many satellites were lasting longer than expected, easing
the rush to put new satellites into orbit and unmanned aerial
vehicles could do some of the tasks for less money.

"We have very heavily increased our dependence on our space
assets, but there's still a lot of maneuvering room as to what
you can give and take." Samson added.