The Air Force threatened to slash future funding for the next-generation Global Positioning System (GPS) III program if Congress didn’t lift sequestrated-related spending caps for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.

Air Force Under Secretary Eric Fanning said Tuesday the service would also reduce the number of GPS III satellites it plans to procure in FY ’17 from three to two. In addition to GPS III, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin [LMT], Fanning said the Air Force would reduce funding for the Weather Satellite Follow-On (WSF) and Space-based Satellite Surveillance Follow-On programs if sequestration was not lifted. This could cause additional cost increases due to program delays, he said. The Defense Department’s base budget topline spending cap for FY ’16 is $500 billion. DoD predicts a base budget request of $535 billion for FY ’16.

“Bottom line, the sequestration slope will have drastic impacts on Air Force programs and capabilities across the portfolio, including in space,” Fanning told reporters at the Pentagon during a briefing on the service’s FY ’15 space budget.

An artist's rendering of a GPS III satellite. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
An artist’s rendering of a GPS III satellite. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force requested roughly $5.3 billion for unclassified FY ’15 space programs, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, director of space programs for the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. The service requested roughly $1 billion for GPS III in combined research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) and procurement funds, 16 percent less than what was appropriated for FY ’14, and it plans on buying only one satellite, as opposed to two last year. The request would fund the procurement of the ninth GPS III satellite as well as advanced procurement for the 10th satellite. It would also continue development of Blocks 1 and 2 of the GPS III next generation operational control system (OCX), which is being developed by Raytheon [RTN]

McMurry said the Air Force is delaying the GPS III program for FY ’15 because the existing fleet of satellites has lasted longer than the service initially predicted. McMurry said the delay will affect GPS III satellites nine and beyond. This also affects the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program as the Air Force said Wednesday it was reducing the number of competed EELV missions that were to be available between fiscal years 2015 and 2017 (Defense Daily, March 6). McMurry added the eighth GPS III satellite would go on contract in the next couple months and that the first GPS III satellite delivery date slipped to FY ’16. Lockheed Martin and subcontractor Exelis [XLS] are having problems eliminating interference in the navigation payload. Lockheed Martin declined to comment Thursday on Fanning’s statement.

The Air Force requested $613.3 million to continue funding for procurement of the fifth and sixth satellites of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications constellation. Fanning said the request would remove funds for AEHF-7 and AEHF-8, but the funding may be restored if a protected satellite communications (SATCOM) services analysis of alternatives (AoA) proposes additional AEHF satellites. Current analysis of AEHF satellites indicate they will remain functional for longer than previously expected, Fanning said, thus replenishment of these satellites is not required until FY ’27. The AoA is expected to finish in the summer time, McMurry said.

This gives the Air Force an opportunity to examine whether it should introduce the concept of disaggregation, or smaller, more affordable satellites, into the AEHF program. McMurry said while the Air Force doesn’t need the AEHF satellites as soon as they were programmed, the service still has roughly $1 billion in the budget that supports the development of alternative architectures. Deputy Air Force Under Secretary for Space Troy Mink said Wednesday the service is performing AoAs for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) as well as AEHF. The concept of satellite disaggregation is whether the military should approach smaller, more flexible, and cheaper, satellites instead of the traditional high-nine-figure satellites in an era of declining budgets.

In other major space programs, the Air Force requested roughly $1.4 billion for EELV, $770 million for SBIRS, $70 million for Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) and $214 million for Space Fence RDT&E. DoD said the Space Fence request re-phases funding following a delay of a contract award from FY ’13 to FY ’14. An Air Force Space and Missile Command (AFSMC) spokeswoman said Wednesday a Space Fence contract is expected to be awarded in mid-May. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon [RTN] are gunning for Space Fence, the Air Force’s next generation space surveillance system expected to be worth $3.5 billion. The Navy also requested $221 million for the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), the Pentagon’s next generation advanced narrow band ultra high frequency (UHF) communications satellites constellation

DoD said its budget request also commences development of WSF to begin the transition from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). McMurry said the Air Force has about $35 million to kick start WSF’s program development activity, which he said is considered to be a small satellite with two sensors. One is a microwave sensor on it and the other, he said, is focused on measuring ocean surface wind vectors and tropical cyclone intensity.

DoD, overall, said it requested $7.2 billion for space investment programs. Its total budget request for FY ’15 was $495.5 billion, down 0.08 percent from what was appropriated for FY ’14.