WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s Space Fence program is ready to award a contract — as soon as a major Pentagon review clears it to move forward.
“We’re ready to award a contract for the Space Fence,” Gen. William Shelton, the head of Air Force Space Command, told a Capitol Hill breakfast this morning. “That award is being held up while we’re determining whether or not this is a priority for the department.”
“I can tell you from a personal perspective it’s a high priority for Air Force Space Command, and I think for the nation in terms of space situational awareness,” Shelton said. “So we’re hopeful that we’ll get authority to award that contract very shortly.”
The program is in stasis while awaiting the results of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), a Pentagon-wide study on how budget cuts of $100 billion, $300 billion and $500 billion, spread over a decade-long period, will impact DoD and its mission. The findings of the study will help inform the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2015 budget.
“The only thing we’re waiting on is the clearance from [Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official] to go ahead and award the contract,” Shelton said.
Shelton called the decision to hold off on awarding the Space Fence contract a “smart management decision” that avoids awarding a contract that may need to be terminated as a result of the SCMR. But with no real options to replace the program’s capability, “we have to get moving on the Space Fence pretty quick.”
The Space Fence is the center of the Air Force’s upgrade of space situational awareness. Shelton has previously estimated that the Pentagon tracks “less than five percent” of the roughly 500,000 objects floating in space, much of that uncontrollable “space debris” that need to be monitored to avoid collisions with US assets. An Air Force press release claims the program will be able to “detect, track and measure an object the size of a softball orbiting more than 1,200 miles in space.”
The program consists of a ground-based S-band radar system stationed on Kwajalein Island, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Because of the planet’s rotation, the stationary radar creates a “fence” which will cover the entirety of space over the course of a day. The fence will replace the aging Air Force Space Surveillance System, which consists of three transmitter stations and six receiving stations across the southern portion of the US.
A second location in Australia has been considered by USAF officials, but there has been no funding allocated for that project. Given the current fiscal climate, it is unlikely that site will be up and running in the near future.
Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are in competition for the program.