William LaPlante is the principal deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition). (Defense Department)
WASHINGTON — While the sequestration budget cuts were intended to reduce government spending, two top Air Force officials say the sequester has already increased the costs to the Pentagon’s key space awareness program.
The Space Fence program has jumped $70 million due to sequester delays, William LaPlante, principal deputy assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, and Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, deputy chief of staff, strategic plans and programs, testified in an Oct. 23 joint written statement to the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee.
“The Space Fence contract was ready for award in early June; however, a DoD-level review driven by sequestration, delayed the decision to proceed into later in 2013,” they wrote. “With an affirmative decision in November, initial capability will slip about one year and costs will increase by over $70M.”
The Space Fence is the center of the Air Force’s upgrade of its space situational awareness capabilities. Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, has estimated that the Pentagon tracks “less than 5 percent” of the roughly 500,000 objects floating in space, much of that uncontrollable “space debris” that needs to be monitored to avoid collisions with US assets. The Air Force has claimed 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” that will cover the entirety of space over the course of a day. A second location in Australia has been considered by USAF officials, but there has been no funding allocated for that project.
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. That program was mothballed earlier this year as part of budget reductions.
The service announced in August that an award on the Space Fence contract would come in March 2014. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are competing.
The officials also noted that funding for science and technology dropped $190 million in fiscal 2013 due to sequestration, with the service recently alerting more than 150 universities that research grants and contracts were being terminated or delayed.
“The Air Force depends on this program to discover, develop and demonstrate high-payoff technologies needed to sustain air, space and cyberspace superiority,” they wrote in their testimony. “We must stay on top of technology development to help maintain a strong defense industrial base and ensure we are not surprised by our adversaries.”