Satellite development delays cost DOD $1B

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.— The Defense Department will launch a new generation of communications satellites to serve mobile users in 2009, even though it has no funds for satellite receivers. Meanwhile, DOD is spending $1 billion a year on commercial broadband satellite service because of schedule delays in developing advanced military broadband satellite systems.

Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lord said he is considering the use of high-tech balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles as communications relays to help bridge the satellite gap. Lord and other top DOD officials spoke at the 2007 SpaceComm Conference, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain chapter of AFCEA International.

The Navy plans to start launching Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites, which are designed to provide cellular telephone-like service in space to mobile and tactical DOD users. But it has no money for ground systems because of a funding shift within the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, said Rear Adm. Victor See, the Navy’s program executive officer for space.

See said that unless funds are provided, DOD could have “$7 billion worth of satellites in orbit” but no JTRS radios that can operate with the MUOS.  That situation is the result of a decision to move MUOS JTRS radios, which will serve ground tactical users and shipboard users, to JTRS Increment II, which is unfunded. The radios had been part of Increment I of the program, which is funded.

The MUOS satellites carry a legacy communications package so that some Army tactical users will be able to use the satellites, See said. However, the fielding of MUOS JTRS radios is hobbled by the lack of funding, and DOD is trying to resolve the problem, he said. Unlike other JTRS radio projects, the development of the MUOS JTRS software waveform is 99 percent on schedule, he added.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, told the conference that a continuing schedule slippage in the development of the Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) means that DOD users will not be able to use five planned satellite constellations, providing a total of 28 gigabits/sec throughput, until 2016. The original plan called for them to be ready by 2009.

Croom said the satellite development delays resulted from “trying to cram too much capability intestate," making a reference to jam-resistant laser cross-links between satellites. Croom urged an accelerated launch of three satellite Wideband Gapfiller satellite systems to help meet DOD's satellite broadband needs.

Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer, told the conference that a lack of military satellite capacity resulted in DOD spending $1 billion last year on commercial satellite leases.

Croom added that DISA helped partially whittle down DOD's commercial satellite bill through an omnibus contract, which shaved the cost of a transponder lease to $1.1 million a year, down from $1.5 million a year.

Lord said that the Air Force is eyeing the use of a high-tech balloon called Combat Skysat to bridge the satellite communications gap in regions such as Iraq. He said the Combat Skysat, which operates at an altitude of 65,000 to 90,000 feet, costs $6,000. It can be launched in 20 minutes and can serve as a satellite surrogate in operational areas, providing coverage of 60 miles.

The Air Force is also considering the use of Global Hawk UAVs as communication relay platforms, Lord said. Two UAVs can provide continuous coverage of an area the size of Iraq.

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