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Senate Panel Eases Cuts In Airborne Laser, European Site BMD Programs

By | May 28, 2007

      Aegis, PAC-3, THAAD Gain

      The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) cut the Airborne Laser (ABL) ballistic missile defense (BMD) program and reduced funding for formation of a Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) site in Europe, but not as deeply as the House version of the bill.

      The SASC measure, the defense authorization bill for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, also increases funding for the Patriot PAC-3, the Aegis ballistic missile defense and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) programs, but provides no funding for the Alternative Infrared Satellite System.

      These moves were part of a SASC package that would provide a total $10.1 billion overall for ballistic missile defense, a net cut of $231 million after reductions to some programs and increased funding for others are weighed.

      In the ABL program, SASC cut $200 million from the $549 million that President Bush requested. That $200 million reduction is less than the $250 million that the House slashed from ABL, and far less than the $400 million that the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wanted to cut.

      Further, according to what Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said recently, that $50 million extra that the Senate would provide is a major amount, because it will permit the ABL program not just to survive, but to proceed ahead, though he and others attempted to regain the full $549 million ABL funding that Bush sought.

      ABL is unlike other missile defense systems in that it involves a high-powered laser on a highly modified Boeing 747 aircraft, able to fire a continuous laser beam at an enemy missile until it is destroyed and its electronics are fried.

      Better, ABL does this when the enemy weapon is in its most vulnerable period, in the boost phase just after launch, before the enemy missile has time to spit forth multiple warheads, decoys or confusing chaff.

      Other U.S. BMD systems, in contrast, depend upon an interceptor to strike the enemy missile at one specific point in time and space. If the interceptor misses that one chance, the enemy missile continues racing toward its target.

      ABL is being developed by prime contractor The Boeing Co. [BA], with the laser systems by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and the beam control/fire control by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].

      The moves to cut U.S. missile defense programs are curious in one sense, coming as China is developing systems capable of demolishing U.S. military and civilian space assets, and missiles capable of striking U.S. aircraft carriers, and as Iran and North Korea are developing ever-greater missile capabilities and nuclear materials capacities in continuing programs.

      Euro BMD, STSS, Space Radar Cut

      SASC lawmakers also cut $85 million from the $310.4 million that Bush requested as a start toward building a third GMD site in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptor silos).

      That, however, was far less of a funding reduction than the HASC wrote into the bill. The House panel hacked out all $160 million for starting work on the silos site in Poland, stating that the United States hadn’t yet negotiated a deal with Poland to obtain the silos site.

      In contrast, the SASC move to cut just $85 million from the European GMD proposal means the Americans can move forward with both the Czech Republic and Poland site acquisition and construction plans. The $225.4 million remaining for the European GMD site carries some strings attached, with funding for some work being subject to meeting certain conditions, the SASC provided.

      Specifically, the SASC curbs use of money for construction and deployment of the European sites until conditions are met such as approval of any bilateral deals with the Czech Republic and Poland to form the sites, and to require Pentagon certification that GMD is operationally effective before deploying more than 40 of the interceptors at the Fort Greeley, Alaska, GMD installation.

      President Bush will press leaders of the other Group of Eight Nations, leading industrialized countries, to back the European missile defense plan, in upcoming G-8 meetings in Europe, according to White House Weekly.

      The $85 million cut to the proposed European GMD site (the other two already built are in Alaska and California) came a day before a GMD test had to be postponed because the target missile didn’t gain sufficient altitude to challenge the interceptor, which wasn’t launched. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      Boeing is the prime contractor, while Raytheon Co. [RTN], Northrop, Lockheed, Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB], Bechtel and Teledyne Brown Engineering also play key roles in the GMD program.

      The SASC also cut $55 million from the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, while authorizing no funds for the proposed space test bed. And the panel removed $150 million from BMD special programs, and $50 million from systems core programs.

      And, like the House, the SASC authorization bill would require that the Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation have full access to missile defense test and evaluation data.

      And the SASC cut deeply into the Space Radar program, providing no funds, but provided added money for research and development of space radar capabilities.

      Separately, the SASC moved to put major limits on Missile Defense Agency (MDA) funding and programs by requiring MDA to go through regular channels and rules in its budget, rather than the current, much more flexible research and development system.

      Increased Programs Funds

      Other programs, however, received increases in their authorized dollar amounts. Much like their House counterparts, SASC members stated they wished to increase funding for more fully developed BMD systems, while cutting funds for those still in early development stages.

      For example, there was $75 million more money for an extra 25 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles for the Army (Raytheon is the prime Patriot contractor), and another $75 million in the Aegis BMD program (Lockheed is the Aegis prime) to obtain an extra 15 Standard Missile-3 missiles (Raytheon is the SM-3 prime).

      Then the SASC added $105 million for THAAD (Lockheed is the prime) to increase the missile production rate, begin the upgrade of the evolved THAAD interceptor, and conduct an additional test.

      In a test last month, THAAD scored a hit on a target missile. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 9, 2007, page 1.)

      The SASC also was generous with several other programs. For example, the panel:

      • Added $125 million for advanced procurement for a fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite, and $10 million for Ultra High Frequency to reduce the risk of communications gaps.
      • Added $15 million for sensors for small satellite efforts to provide operationally responsive space support capability for the warfighter.
      • Added $35 million for the Space Based Space Surveillance System to provide improved situational awareness in space. Congress is concerned about awareness of threats to U.S. space assets, after China proved it can demolish satellites in orbit. The Senate panel added $16.8 million for space situational awareness operations, $9.8 million for the space fence, $13.8 million to the Rapid Attack Identification Detection and Reporting System (RAIDRS) and $50 million for space control technology to improve space protection and awareness capabilities.
      • Fully funded the GPS III program and the Transformational Communications Satellite Program. As well, the SASC provided an additional $100 million for the Space-Based Infrared Satellite System (SBIRS) GEO-4 and $27.6 million for the SBIRS backup control station.

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