Air Force officials take space budget, acquisition strategy to Capitol Hill

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force senior leaders testified about the service's fiscal 2012 budget and space capabilities investments before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee here March 15.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton; Gen. William Shelton, the Air Force Space Command commander; Ambassador Greg Schulte, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy; and Betty Sapp, the principal deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, appeared before members of Congress to discuss the importance of the U.S. space program to national security.

"The Air Force is investing in critical military space capabilities which directly support our warfighters and benefit our nation's economy, national security, international relationships, scientific discovery and our quality of life," Ms. Conaton said.

Investment areas include satellite communications; advanced missile warning systems; global positioning, navigation and timing; accurate, time-sensitive weather data capabilities; and enhanced space situational awareness, she added.

Regarding the Air Force's proposed space acquisition strategy, Ms. Conaton said she was confident that the Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency, or EASE, would result in better value for the taxpayer, as well as greater stability and predictability for the nation's space industrial base.

The EASE strategy is comprised of four basic tenets: block buys of satellites; stable research and development investment; fixed-price contracting; and full funding through advance appropriations.

In her written testimony to the subcommittee, Ms. Conaton pointed out the critical need to pursue these basic tenets along with a robust examination of contractor costs and aggressive efforts to achieve cost reductions.

"With Congress' support, we are confident that the combination of the major elements of EASE ... in tandem with the rigorous should cost review already under way, will help the Air Force achieve considerable savings in the acquisition of some of our most critical space assets," she said in her statement.

She explained that the current practice of procuring satellites one at a time or on a just-in-time basis has led to increased costs due to production-line breaks, parts obsolescence and inefficient use of labor.

The significant cost of space systems has also created challenges, such as spikes in procurement funding for one program and the subsequent lack of funding available for others in the same timeframe, she said.

Ms. Conaton added that these effects have led the Air Force to delay other space programs due to the inability to fund them all during the same fiscal year, thereby forcing the service to buy other programs less efficiently.

"When the (industrial base gets) breaks in production lines, it drives their cost up, it wreaks havoc on their workforce and it ultimately drives the higher price to the taxpayer when we have to buy that next satellite," Ms. Conaton said. "For those reasons, we ... need to undertake a new approach that allows us to avoid those funding spikes and provides greater stability to the industrial base."

The EASE strategy seeks to combat this inefficiency and the disruption caused by the status quo approach to satellite procurement, she said.

"Block buys of satellites will allow us to purchase economic order quantities of critical parts, run production lines more efficiently and reduce non-recurring engineering costs," she said. "This approach will result in savings that can be reinvested in research and development which will further improve the performance and lower the cost of follow-on systems."

According to Ms. Conaton, national security space programs comprise 10 percent of the annual Air Force budget and 21 percent of Air Force investment accounts. The Air Force's space contributions represent more than 80 percent of overall Department of Defense space funding and more than 90 percent of the space positions designated under major force program-12.

Based on the unique responsibilities of the Air Force Space Command, General Shelton said he established three priorities: supporting the joint fight, gaining control of space system costs and normalizing cyberspace for 21st century military operations.

"The FY12 budget advances the command's progress toward these priorities," General Shelton said. "It modernizes GPS, the world's gold standard for positioning, navigation and timing information. It advances satellite communications to meet ever-increasing demand. It enhances overhead persistent infrared capability essential for missile warning and missile defense."

The president's budget request for fiscal 2012 includes a total of $8.76 billion for research, development testing and evaluation and procurement of Air Force space programs.

"Department of Defense contributions to national security via our space programs are enormous," Ms. Conaton said. "But the Air Force understands that to be good stewards of the space mission in the emerging budget environment, we have to make our programs more cost-effective."