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TSAT Contract Award Delayed From This December To Fiscal 2010

By | October 20, 2008

      The Department of Defense Saturday decided to delay the Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) contract that was to be awarded in December, putting it off until the June- September quarter in 2010, Reuters said.

      That stingy approach may, ultimately, kill the program, and much worse may end up killing U.S. military personnel, a widely read analyst said today.

      TSAT is vital to developing the Army Future Combat Systems (FCS), because TSAT would provide the rapid communications links that FCS requires, noted Loren B. Thompson, chief operating officer with The Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon focusing on defense and other issues.

      "The plan now is to restart the satellite program as a less costly effort on a stretched-out schedule, but the more likely outcome is that the program simply dies for lack of support in the new administration" of the president who will be elected Nov. 4, Thompson predicted.

      "That would be a real tragedy, leading to the avoidable deaths of many warfighters who cannot obtain timely [communications] links via other means," he wrote in an issue brief.

      An Air Force acquisition program, TSAT would be a next-generation communications program linking far-flung military forces in a cohesive unity.

      The TSAT contest thus far has pitted a team led by The Boeing Co. [BA] against a team of Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] with Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC]. The two competing teams now are working under preliminary contracts, but the competition for a larger contract has been terminated, now aiming for a contract award in 2010. That delays launch of the first satellite to 2019.

      This is a mistake, because TSAT is needed, Thompson noted.

      "The program was supposed to give each warfighter easy, secure access to the global information grid as part of the joint force’s migration to networked warfare," he observed.

      Policymakers made the wrong move when they decided to put the brakes on the TSAT program, he added.

      "Setting aside the utter lack of transparency in this last, misguided decision by a failed [Bush] administration, what lesson might be learned from the satellite’s termination?" Thompson asked. "Simply this: costly and complicated military technology programs usually don’t unfold as planned. They take so long to develop that there are many opportunities for politicians and policymakers to revise budgets and rewrite requirements. So the programs reach the field later than expected, in a different form than originally anticipated."

      FCS, a sprawling modernization program to acquire cutting-edge vehicles, aircraft and more, all netted together by advanced communications, carries a price tag of about $160 billion, second only to the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Lightning II) program.

      Thompson’s point is that it is critical for FCS to succeed, and it won’t without TSAT.

      FCS is overseen by The Boeing Co. [BA] and Science Applications International Corp. [SAI].

      "Prime contractor Boeing has achieved the nearly impossible goal of keeping the program on schedule and on budget despite multiple restructurings, and as a result it has gradually gained support both in the service and on Capitol Hill," Thompson recalled. "That support is readily apparent in the Army’s proposed spending plan for 2010-2015."

      It is critical for FCS to include TSAT, Thompson continued.

      The "Future Combat Systems is an exceedingly complex ‘system of systems’ that makes the canceled satellite program look simple by comparison," he noted. "While there is little doubt that the Army needs such a program to fight effectively in the future, there is also little doubt it will encounter problems of one sort or another before fully coming to fruition. In fact, loss of the connectivity that would have been provided by the canceled satellite is one such problem. Planners say they can work around the communications gap, but that will take time."

      A tight-fisted fiscal approach can be dangerous, Thompson concluded. "The Pentagon shouldn’t be underfunding programs that we know will be crucial to the survival and success of America’s soldiers," he concluded.

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