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White House Aero-Hit-List #9: Transformational Satellite

$17 Billion Cut... But Trillions More Spent Elsewhere

The Obama Administration, in the process of spending trillions of dollars for all manner of programs and projects, is trumpeted the 17 Billion dollars it is trying to cut from the Federal Budget. Rather than try to digest them all en masse, we'll look at each of them one at a time and allow you to make up YOUR mind as to the rationale and wisdom for the decisions included below. Herewith; another of the programs on the chopping block that has an aviation or aerospace connotation.

From the 'Terminations, Reductions, and Savings' document published this week by the OMB, as part of the FY 2010 US Budget:

Proposal: The Administration proposes to terminate the Air Force's Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program because of significant cost increases and slips in schedule. It intends instead to buy additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites, which offer maturity and stability in technology development and in design. The TSAT program was envisioned as a constellation of four satellites and a spare -- with supporting ground infrastructure -- designed to provide strategic communications and Internet-like capabilities to deployed forces.

Justification: The TSAT program has suffered from funding instability, and increasing costs and development delays. Moreover, the program's schedule has slipped significantly. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the revised date for the launch of the first satellite was 2019 -- almost four years later than previously scheduled.1 GAO further noted that the launch delay was supported by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had concerns about TSAT's development progress and synchronization with other programs. Also, in recent testimony before the Congress regarding alternate budget scenarios, the Congressional Budget Office pointed to the cancellation of TSAT as a potential cost-saving measure.

Based on a recent revision of the program, the estimated investment cost for the current TSAT program is $19.4 billion. This represents an increase in the cost for each satellite of roughly $400 million over the original estimate. Significantly, the latest TSAT configuration has substantially less technical capability than what was proposed for the original configuration. The Air Force has spent approximately $3.3 billion on the TSAT program through 2009. A preliminary assessment done by the Department of Defense (DOD) anticipates savings of about $1.5 to $2.5 billion dollars though 2015 as a result of procuring AEHF satellites in the place of TSATs.

Procuring more than the four AEHF satellites currently under development will allow DOD to continue upgrading its communications satellite inventory with less expensive satellites than TSAT. AEHF satellites will provide a significantly higher data throughput capacity than protected satellites currently in use. Also, they have enhanced features to make them more survivable, jam-resistant, and secure from eavesdropping than current protected satellites. Most importantly -- and as noted by GAO -- AEHF component technologies are mature and their design appears stable.

FMI: www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2010/assets/trs.pdf

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