September 27, 2005

Senate Panel Cuts Back Military Space Programs

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Senate panel on Monday cut nearly $500 million from three big military space programs and trimmed back a next-generation communications program, citing cost overruns and technical challenges.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a $440.2 billion defense spending bill, fully funding most of the Bush administration's requests for weapons spending.

But it would cut $250 million from $835.8 million requested by the administration for the Transformational Satellite Program being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to give the military high capacity, highly mobile, beyond line-of-sight communications.

The subcommittee said it cut the program "due to concerns over technical maturity of new capabilities." The House in June approved a $400 million cut to the program.

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee also cut the Space Radar program by $125.8 million, citing "excessive program growth given the level of program definition." The House had cut funding for that program by the same amount.

The administration had requested $225.8 million for that program, which officials say will be a key to enhancing military surveillance and reconnaissance in future years.

In addition, the Senate subcommittee cut funding for Lockheed's Space-Based Infrared System (SBRIS) High program by $100 million due to excessive cost growth.

The Air Force requested $760.4 million for SBRIS High in its 2006 defense budget, but told Congress in March the program would be over budget by at least 15 percent.

Lockheed is the prime contractor for the program, while Northrop builds the main infrared sensors for the satellites.

Lt. Col. Karen Finn, spokeswoman for Air Force space programs, declined to comment specifically on the Senate subcommittee's cuts, but said the Air Force remained committed to space programs, which it says are essential to providing communications, surveillance and targeting data to soldiers.

"They're essential programs. We hope to get these programs up and going, but obviously we need to wait and see what the marks are going to look like," Finn said.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation's Chris Hellman said the cuts to space programs were not a surprise.

"We know that the satellite programs are in trouble," he said, noting that continued delays in new programs could lead to a satellite gap as existing satellites stop functioning.

"The fact of the matter is that replacements for the current satellites are well behind schedule and well over budget."

The defense spending bill is due to go through the full Appropriations Committee later this week and the spending authorization bill could be added to the spending bill.

The Senate subcommittee also cut $236.3 million from the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), the communications backbone for the Army's future force, citing problems with Cluster 1, for which Boeing Co. is the prime contractor.

It carved $200 million out of the budget for the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program, for which Boeing and Northrop are developing demonstration aircraft.

The subcommittee also included $7.8 billion for missile defense, $800 million less than the president's budget.

The subcommittee cut Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter program by $270 million, citing instability in the aircraft's design, while adding $65 million to buy one additional Boeing F-15E fighter.