Pentagon Keeps Satellite System, Nixes New Naval Missile Defense

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Pentagon Keeps Satellite System, Nixes New Naval Missile Defense


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


A SENIOR PENTAGON official announced May 2 that a sophisticated satellite system for monitoring global ballistic missile launches would get a new lease on life, but a sea-based missile defense system cancelled last December would not be resurrected in any form.

Despite program troubles and climbing costs, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Edward Aldridge told reporters that the Space-Based Infrared System-high (SBIRS-high) satellite constellation, which is being developed to replace existing satellites first launched in the early 1970s, was "essential" to U.S. national security and would be continued.

Originally projected to cost $1.8 billion, the SBIRS-high program has experienced an approximately $2 billion increase in engineering and manufacturing development, which does not take into account future procurement and operational costs. The Air Force requested $814 million for the program in the Pentagon's fiscal year 2003 budget request, but the Senate Armed Services Committee has proposed trimming that amount by $100 million.

U.S. law requires that Pentagon programs with projected per unit cost increases greater than 25 percent be reviewed and certified by the secretary of defense, if they are to continue receiving funding. To avoid cancellation, a program must be deemed "essential" to national security. It must also be determined that no cheaper alternative program exists, that the costs are "reasonable," and that the program's management structure will keep future costs in check.

To enable its certification by Aldridge on May 2, the SBIRS-high program had begun to undergo restructuring. Aldridge said that the program's primary private contractor, Lockheed Martin, took action to correct its performance and management, which Aldridge said the company recognized as needing "some serious adjustment." A Lockheed spokesperson explained May 22 that the company had "assessed all key positions and assigned new leadership."

Appearing May 15 before the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of the Air Force James Roche testified that SBIRS-high had been taken back to "square one. …

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