DoD, Northrop Grumman Look To Finalize New DWSS Contract By End of Year

DoD, Northrop Grumman Look To Finalize New DWSS Contract By End of Year

Air Force Space and Missile Command (SMC), along with industry counterparts at Northrop Grumman [NOC] plan to have a contract in place for the service’s new defense weather satellite system by the end of this year, military and civilian officials tied to the effort said last week.

The pending contract will cover development of the Air Force’s Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), and will be closely patterned on the now-defunct National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), according to John Baldonado, acting director of the center’s defense weather systems.

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"We have done extensive work…with Northrop Grumman, looking at what the DWSS [satellite] will look like, leveraging a lot of activities that happened with the NPOESS," Baldonato told reporters during a media briefing last week.

Noting the "long history" that the company has had with SMC, going back to the initial development effort on NPOESS, program officials at Northrop Grumman "have the benefit to fully leverage the considerable government investment in the NOPESS system to support…the DWSS satellite," Clark Snodgrass, Northrop Grumman’s director of the Defense Weather Satellite System Engineering, Integration, Test, and Operations division, said during the same briefing.

The NPOESS was a joint effort formed by DoD, NASA and the National Weather Service to create a satellite system that can track changing weather patterns and relay that information back to decision makers in each agency.

But last year, officials from the Pentagon’s acquisition directorate ordered the NPOESS program to be split into two segments, one designed to address military requirements and the other to conduct weather surveillance for civilian use.

Northrop Grumman was the prime contractor for the NPOESS program. The DWSS program currently under development by the Air Force and Northrop Grumman will be the military variant.

Since then, the joint NOPESS integrated production office was terminated and the DWSS office at SMC was stood up. Air Force officials have also been coordinating the transition with their industry partners at Northrop Grumman in "refining the program, restructuring the contract" to coincide with the program split, Baldonato said.

During the most recent review of the SMC-led program last August, DoD acquisition chief Ashton Carter called for the development of two DWSS platforms to conduct "early-morning orbit" missions, according to Baldonato.

As part of that development effort, Air Force officials were also directed to include "at least a legacy capability for a microwave sensor" on board the two new DWSS satellites, he added. The microwave sensor capability being sought will be one of three sensor suites planned for the DWSS platform.

The first step toward that eventual contract will be a Material Development Decision by members of the Defense Acquisition Board on those microwave sensor capabilities. That MDD review is scheduled for late February, the SMC official noted.

"At this point, there is still a lot of work to do to establish this [new] program, but with the support of our industry partners…I think we are on the way there to get this DWSS program established…to deliver a capability that is truly needed," Baldonato said.

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