[Satellite News 08-21-12] Boeing is working on the Pentagon’s Family of Advanced Beyond-line-of-sight Terminals (FAB-T) program under a different fixed-price structure than was originally agreed upon under the original $235 million deal it won in September 2002. The company, which has been building ground stations that would operate new AEHF U.S. Air Force communications satellites, said it altered the contract structure to mitigate expanding development costs and accommodate tighter military budgets.
While both sides seemed content with the new contract, the Air Force also was moving forward with an RFP seeking alternatives to Boeing’s FAB-T solution. Raytheon, one of Boeing’s primary rivals in the government market, has been actively pursuing this opportunity. Boeing Vice President and FAB-T Program Manager Paul Geery spoke to Satellite News about the challenges his company has tackled in meeting the Air Force’s AEHF and FAB-T requirements.
Satellite News: What is the history of Boeing’s development work with the FAB-T program?
Geery: I came on to the FAB-T program as a manager last July, but the program dates back to the 2002–2003 timeframe. We were contracted to develop a series of terminals that reside on the ground, in the command posts that fly and the suite of bomber configurations that the United States deploys. This was implemented for the purpose of supporting the U.S. military’s strategic nuclear control and command mission. We’ve been involved with that development program kind of in parallel to the rest of the system architecture, which includes the AEHF satellites that provide the communications link to the terminals in different geographic locations, as well as some of the cooperating terminals that the Navy and the Army are utilizing to take advantage of that link.
Satellite News: What is the most current state of Boeing’s FAB-T program?
Geery: We have completed 95 percent of the work required on the development phase and we’re currently finishing up the systems integration work that will lead up to a function qualification test of the entire terminal suite. That test will begin this upcoming February and last for about a three-month period of time. We will complete that phase sometime in the May-June time frame and then we will complete a few other activities that will close out the verification. This would put us at the completion of the development.
Satellite News: In June, we reported that Boeing altered its FAB-T contract structure with the Air Force to make the program more cost efficient. Why did Boeing decide to do this?
Geery: Late last year, the Air Force had a number of issues to deal with at the same time, primarily with budget pressures. There were concerns that the work we were doing was going to have to be followed up with some changes to the scope of that work to account for the mission’s needs. One of the top priorities for the Air Force is to improve its Presidential National Voice Capability (PNVC) so that all of these cooperating AEHF terminals can take advantage of a higher quality voice link. That was a change that needed to be incorporated. We also had to make a few software changes on our end to make sure that we were consistent with the space vehicle’s architecture. The military also was concerned that the development risk to complete development on the FAB-T program was still too great. We didn’t think the development risk was that bad and we knew we had our arms around the work that needed to be finished. So, we put an unsolicited proposal on the table that incorporated the technical changes that were needed under a fixed-price structure that would keep the program within the military’s budgetary constraints. The Air Force took a look at the proposal and was very happy with the terms. We capped the cost risk to the government by going to a fixed-price. By doing this, we were able to show the Air Force that we were confident in our assessment of the development risk. We went through a couple months of negotiations and made sure the proposal fit within the scope of the Air Force’s needs. After it was signed, we went back to work.
Satellite News: That said, why is the Air Force still pursuing FAB-T alternatives with other companies?
Geery: They started moving forward with their risk reduction effort well before we put our fixed-price proposal on the table. While I can’t speak for the Air Force, I assume they needed a plan just in case the technical development risk became too great or any number of other things happened. They need to have something ready by 2015 to take advantage of the AEHF constellation. They have to explore options, like putting a sub-set of requirements on the table for certain parts of the infrastructure. These are all parts of a risk reduction effort to create a back up. These alternatives would only be used if our development gets bogged down.
Satellite News: How does Boeing respond to the FAB-T alternatives that have been proposed?
Geery: I can’t comment on what companies like Raytheon are proposing in alternative programs because I don’t know, but I can respond to the fact that they said that they are meeting 80 percent of the requirements under the FAB-T program. Boeing is meeting 100 percent of the requirements. While 80 percent sounds like a lot, the remaining 20 percent of those requirements will cost money in order to be met and require fundamental changes to the hardware and software of the architecture.