WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is reviewing its space programs — many of which are behind schedule and over budget — with an eye to slowing down projects whose technologies are not yet mature, the Pentagon’s top space official said on Tuesday.
Air Force Undersecretary Ron Sega, a former astronaut and the Pentagon’s executive agent for space, also urged greater cooperation by the intelligence and defense communities on satellites, noting their importance to fighting wars abroad, as well as responding to recent hurricanes in the Gulf region.
But massive cost overruns and major schedule delays have plagued nearly every space program in recent years, prompting Congress to seek funding cuts.
“While these challenges are not necessarily new, they have become extremely serious and they do threaten our space dominance,” said Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, who introduced Sega at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon.
“Unprecedented cost growth and significant schedule delays have seriously damaged the credibility of our Air Force program management and caused some of my colleagues in Congress to push for significant reductions in the Air Force’s space programs.”
Allard is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose defense subcommittee on Monday cut funding for three key space programs by nearly $500 million for fiscal year 2006.
The House has already passed a similar level of cuts to two space programs, which makes it likely that the final defense spending bill will cut funding for at least some programs.
Sega, who directed Pentagon research for four years, stopped short of saying space programs were in crisis but said his previous work made it clear that the technological maturity of current programs differed widely.
“We would be well-served to lower the risk as we build operational systems and make sure that we have the parts we need and … make sure the technology is mature,” he said.
Opting for more mature technology would help speed up the launch of new systems because it would lower the risk of technological setbacks, he said.
At the same time, he said the Air Force needed to continue to put resources into developmental systems, advanced research projects and science and technology funding.
Sega said he would thoroughly examine each satellite program and how they would fit into an “integrated architecture in space,” as well as overall military intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance work.
His remarks came a week after intelligence director John Negroponte recommended canceling a key part of Boeing’s contract for the Future Imagery Architecture satellite and
hiring Lockheed Martin Corp. to do the work.
Negroponte also moved to cancel a second satellite imagery program, Misty, being built by Lockheed, but defense officials said they need the new satellite for military purposes.
The Pentagon offered to pump billions of dollars into the classified project, but details are still being worked out with congressional committee that oversees intelligence and defense spending, according to sources familiar with the matter.