Lewis: Keep defense IT on track

The Bush administration's $379.3 billion budget request for the Defense Department in fiscal 2003 includes increased funding for myriad information technology systems, but continued progress in these areas is needed for the future, according to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

"I feel very strongly that we need to appreciate...the tremendous value of IT and its impact to wage war when we have to," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) at a Feb. 8 media briefing hosted by Defense Week magazine. "The committee gives priority to this arena and the administration [does] as well."

Lewis said the greatest obstacle to IT funding, which includes everything from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to intelligent satellite communications systems, is that they run the "gamut of assets and also potential expenditure."

Lewis said it was not long ago that the Air Force was not interested in funding projects like the $25 million Predator, a UAV used for surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting armed with a TV camera, infrared camera and radar. But demonstrations of the tool's benefits, as well as similar examples at work in Afghanistan, illustrate "fantastic progress...but there's still a lot of work that [must] continue to be funded."

The DOD budget proposal also includes more money for research and development as well as a 25 percent increase for intelligence -- both symbolic of the administration's desire to be prepared in the present while planning for the future, Lewis said.

"In too many ways, [DOD] has the propensity to fight the last war, instead of planning for future war," he said. "R&D [funding] disappeared when it best would have been spent and, clearly, intelligence dollars had a low priority in the past.

But if there was ever a question about the importance of merging intelligence values with force, it's been answered by the successes in Afghanistan, Lewis said.

However, that does not mean the DOD budget proposal is perfect. Lewis said he did not see enough recommendations about reducing or eliminating problem or outdated programs, and he was also dismayed by the "lack of new direction given in the [Quadrennial Defense Review] that most of us feel is needed."

One program under much scrutiny within DOD and on Capitol Hill is the Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), which combines space- and ground-based systems to detect launches and determine where missiles will strike. The Air Force recently completed Increment 1, which consolidated ground control from three systems into one, but the next two phases are in jeopardy in President Bush's 2003 budget proposal.

Increment 2, or SBIRS-High, will add four satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit and two sensors in highly elliptical orbit, is scheduled to receive more than $814 million in 2003, an increase of more than $376 million over fiscal 2002 funding. However, SBIRS-High is under the microscope for unacceptable cost growth, Lewis said.

Increment 3, also know as SBIRS-Low, was "restructured" in the fiscal 2003 proposal and will be pushed back for two years, according to DOD officials. SBIRS-Low will add 20 to 30 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide midcourse missile tracking.

Poor program management in the past has hindered SBIRS, but Lewis said he has been pleased to see the ongoing review that the Air Force launched after problems arose. "It is very important that these programs work...[and] it is our job in the subcommittee to review the programs."

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