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Boeing Wins As Senate Panel Fully Funds ABL, But European BMD Cut

By | September 17, 2007

      The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) voted to provide the full $549 million that President Bush requested for the Airborne Laser (ABL), a 100 percent funding move for a program where a House panel earlier would have provided just 27 percent of the request.

      SAC senators decided to provide full funding for the ABL program just days after an official with The Boeing Co. [BA], lead contractor for the ABL program, warned that funding cuts could delay the program by up to two years.

      After the SAC decision, Boeing hailed it as recognition of the worth of the airborne ballistic missile shield.

      Boeing praised the lawmakers for the decision, but at the same time noted that the ABL funding issue is far from settled.

      "We are pleased that the Senate appropriators fully funded the president’s budget request for the Airborne Laser," a Boeing statement said. "This action shows that as people learn more about the program, there is more recognition of the tremendous potential of ABL’s transformational technology and vital mission objective of providing the United States with capability to shoot down a ballistic missile in its boost phase."

      Boeing argued that its performance in leading ABL justifies full funding.

      "The program continues to make significant progress and is on track and on schedule for the August 2009 shootdown of a ballistic missile," the statement continued.

      At the same time, the SAC approval of full funding leaves the appropriation still to be approved by the full Senate. And after that, if the Senate adopts the SAC decision, there would have to be a decision in a conference committee as to whether the Senate full funding approach would prevail, or whether House cuts to the program would be included in the final bill.

      "We hope that the final Congressional appropriation will provide for full funding of ABL," Boeing said.

      The ABL involves Boeing as the prime contractor and contributor of the heavily-modified Boeing 747 aircraft; Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] contributing laser systems in the plane; and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] providing the beam control/fire control system that steers a high-powered laser beam at an enemy missile.

      In action, that laser would destroy the enemy missile and fry its electronics in the most vulnerable portion of the missile flight path, shortly after the weapon rises from a launch pad or silo, before it can spray out multiple warheads, decoys or chaff.

      European BMD Cut

      The SAC also moved to cut $85 million out of the planned U.S. Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system proposed for Europe, with the cut spread among a radar installation planned for the Czech Republic and interceptors in silos planned for Poland.

      That’s better for the program, however, than earlier moves on the House side to eliminate all funding for the interceptors and silos planned for Poland.

      Boeing likely would lead development of the European ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, forming a third site which would expand the other two GMD centers in Alaska and California.

      The second-largest defense contractor was measured in its response to the cut, not criticizing the SAC.

      "The bills are steps in [congressional] consideration of the Department of Defense budget," the Boeing statement said.

      "As the budget progresses, we will continue to work with Congress and our military customers as they strive to strike the right balance between meeting the vital needs of our warfighters, and meeting budget realities."

      Those U.S.-based GMD programs in Alaska and California received full funding in the SAC defense appropriations bill for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, which begins at the end of this month.

      Other winners where the SAC provided full funding of White House budget requests included the Aegis ballistic missile defense program, a sea-based BMD system led by Lockheed, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, program.

      Boeing, Raytheon and other major contractors also are on the Lockheed-led THAAD team.

      The SAC measure also provides an additional $100 million for test and training range upgrades and support and ground-based missile defense upgrades

      As well, the bill provides $75 million for Arrow co-production, the Arrow System Improvement Program, and Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense.

      The Arrow is an Israeli-led theater ballistic missile defense system that also involves the United States.

      But the SAC cut funds in some key BMD areas, such as reducing funds for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) by $30 million.

      The KEI is the other missile defense program hitting enemy weapons shortly after they blast off, in the boost phase, although KEI also can intercept and slam into enemy missiles at later points in their flights.

      KEI is led by Northrop Grumman, and also includes Raytheon Co. [RTN], Orbital [ORB] and Alliant Techsystems [ATK].

      As well, the SAC funding bill also provides in full the money that Bush requested for:

      • GPS II
      • The Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite
      • The Wideband Global Satellite
      • The National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System
      • And the Space Based Infrared system (SBIRS) High

      Additionally, the budget provides further funding for space situational awareness (SSA) activities, such as Space Control Test Capabilities, RAIDRS Block 20, and basic SSA research activities

      As well, the SAC appropriations bill fully funds the Joint-Air-to-Ground-Missile (JACM) research and development, and also establishes the Prompt Global Strike initiative for $125 million, which consolidates disparate efforts from across the military.

      Finally, the SAC provided no funding for the Space Test Bed and the Space Experimentation Center.

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