January 18, 2006
DoD plan calls for taking GPS away from Air Force
By Michael Fabey
Times staff writer
To counter what they view as the Air Force’s weak commitment to space programs, some Pentagon officials are proposing shifting oversight of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation program from the service to the Department of Defense (DoD) office that handles networks and information integration.
The proposal is now in draft form, but if approved by top officials it would place control of the successful GPS program — including a $12 billion plan to upgrade the navigation network to, among other things, reduce its susceptibility to jamming — within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration.
While the GPS program is widely regarded as a model of efficient acquisition and operation, the service’s track record for other space efforts is fraught with delays, cost overruns and technological overreach. Maj. Regina Winchester, an Air Force spokeswoman, said service leaders are unaware of any effort to wrest control of GPS.
“It’s been a very successful program,” Winchester said.
But other Air Force officials say they have seen the draft memo proposing the shift, but question whether the Networks and Information Integration office has the authority to pull off the move. These officials said that the memo suggests giving oversight of both operations and acquisition to the office — two fields that are nearly always handled by separate entities — adding that the memo itself was far from becoming policy.
One expert on space programs, however, said that while the memo may prove unimportant, its message is clear: The Air Force isn’t serious about space acquisitions.
A series of Air Force space programs have come under intense scrutiny for cost and schedule problems, including the Space Based Infrared System High, the Space Based Radar, the Future Imagery Architecture and the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. even the Transformation Satellite program, aimed at revolutionizing military communications, is likely to experience deep budget cuts in the wake of the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.
Air Force officials contend their commitment to space is ironclad — the service is the government’s lead agency for military space programs, which includes some of the most classified programs as well as the GPS constellation, a centerpiece of global navigation. They add that cost overruns and schedule delays are less a question of commitment, and more a complex blend of increasingly sophisticated technologies and challenges associated with complex modern space architectures.
“OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] simply does not trust the Air Force when it comes to space acquisition, and this memo is just another proof of that,” said the Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson, expressing a view echoed by some Air Force officials, who said the memo illustrates DoD concerns about the service’s commitment to space. “OSD is worried that the Air Force will find a way to spend the money on planes,” he said.
It also shows how infighting has broken out since the March departure of Air Force undersecretary Peter Teets, who kept a firm grasp on several top space programs. Analysts and officials said Teets’ departure left a power vacuum that has allowed various services and agencies to wrestle for programs, platforms and money.
Space programs, with their odd combination of interests — Air Force, CIA, National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office among them — have proved particularly problematic.
Thompson and Air Force space officials note that the Defense Department, which assumed oversight of the service’s biggest programs when several top posts went vacant last year, has returned most of the job to service leaders since Michael Wynn took the service’s top job in November.
But space acquisition milestone authority — the right to approve major funding steps during program development — remains with DoD.
Thompson also pointed to DoD’s decision on the E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft. The Air Force was counting on the E-10 to help find moving targets on the ground and in the air and provide key battle management command and control. It would be a central element in the Air Force’s Command and Control Constellation, which envisions a fully connected array of land-, platform- and space-based sensors that use common standards and communication protocols. But the Defense Department wanted more capability in space and less aboard the E-10, Thompson said.
jesus, if it works don't fuck with it!