The House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal year 2020 draft defense appropriations bill cuts Air Force funding for space procurement and research-and-development (R&D) programs compared to what the service requested, despite lawmakers’ continued emphasis on developing new space programs and technologies across the Department of Defense.

The draft bill report, released Tuesday, includes $2.3 billion for new Air Force space procurement, about $45 million less than the service requested earlier this year. House appropriators justify the decrease due to underexecution of programs including family beyond-line-of-sight terminals, the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and modifications for space assets, per the report.

3D render of planet Earth viewed from space, with night lights in Europe and sun rising over Asia. Blue hue treatment. Elements from NASA

Space research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds are also largely decreased in the HAC proposed budget. Affected space technology programs include:

-The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which lost over $108 million compared to the Air Force’s request for a total of $461.7 million included in the budget;

-The Evolved Strategic Satellite Communications (ESS) and Protected Tactical Enterprise Services (PTES) programs each lost $5 million deemed to be unjustifiable increases to the two next-generation protected SATCOM programs. Appropriators allocated between $167 million and $168 million for each of the programs;

– And the GPS III Follow-On program’s requested funding was $10 million in excess of need, lawmakers found. They allocated $452 million to the next-generation GPS III program, in development by Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC].

Over $200 million was removed from the service’s next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) early missile warning program, as the Air Force retains about $13 million in unobligated balances and Congress deemed over $188 million of the request “excess to need.”

Lawmakers included $1.19 billion for the next-gen OPIR program, but stipulated in the draft defense bill released last week that not more than 50 percent of the funds appropriated may be obligated or expended by the DoD for the effort until lawmakers receive a report outlining how the proposed Space Development Agency (SDA) will interact with the Air Force (Defense Daily, May 14).

“Further, the Committee questions whether the use of authorities for middle tier acquisition for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding under Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 is appropriate for this program, and whether the Department of Defense’s oversight and management controls are adequate given the use of the middle tier acquisition authority,” the report said.

Space programs including space situational awareness operations, counterspace systems, space test and testing range development, space control technology and space rapid technology development also received millions less in funding than the Air Force requested due to underexecution of the programs, per the report.

The House Appropriations Committee bill released last week expressed caution in moving ahead with the White House’s desired Space Force and Space Development Agency proposals.

In a break with the House Armed Services Committee, HAC urges the Air Force to move “expeditiously” on awarding new national security space launch contracts, expressing concern over a possible gap in technologies pending any delays in the launch services procurement (LSP) program. HASC Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) had urged the Air Force to delay publishing the most recent request for proposals for LSP Phase 2, citing worry over competition issues and echoing some industry calls for more time to mature their new technologies (Defense Daily, March 29).

In other space developments, HAC recommends that the Air Force and Navy secretaries consider transferring acquisition authority of narrowband satellite communications systems from the Navy to the Air Force to “facilitate the development and implementation of an integrated communications architecture.” The Air Force has traditionally procured wideband and strategic satellite communications.