Pentagon OKs revamp of communications satellite

WASHINGTON - Pentagon chief arms buyer John Young has approved…

WASHINGTON – Pentagon chief arms buyer John Young has approved a restructuring of a troubled multibillion dollar communications satellite program, admonishing the Air Force to “act immediately … in order to make progress.”

Young signed an acquisition decision memorandum on Dec. 3 that calls for the launch of a first Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) no later than Sept. 30, 2019. A copy of the memo was obtained by Reuters.

Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co have been competing to build the new advanced communications satellites, but Pentagon officials decided in October to postpone a contract award and restructure the program.

TSAT was initially expected to provide extremely-high-bandwidth communications from and through space using Internet Protocol routing technology and laser crosslinks, but senior Pentagon officials decided in October to proceed with a scaled back version based on radio-frequency crosslinks, much like current satellites.

Young’s memo approves that strategy and a “phased approach for capacity growth.”

Young’s spokesman Chris Isleib confirmed the memo as well as Young’s handwritten footnote to the Air Force.

“The comments emphasize Mr. Young’s clear direction to his acquisition staff to execute his guidance without delay,” Isleib said. “He has witnessed unnecessary delays in execution of (Office of the Secretary of Defense) direction via decision memoranda, and that can often translate into wasted funds.”

Both Boeing and Lockheed, teamed with Northrop Grumman Corp. Each had won development contracts for initial work on TSAT, but the companies had hoped to lock in a contract that was expected to be worth over $10 billion in the longer-term.

Termination of and delays in other weapons programs have reduced some of the urgency behind the satellite program, but analysts say the latest TSAT delay could jeopardize the Army’s Future Combat Systems modernization effort.

Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky said his company had demonstrated all the key technologies needed for TSAT and felt it was well-positioned to compete for the revised program once the Air Force released details of the revamped competition.

Boeing spokesman Dan Beck was his company was also still awaiting a revised request for proposals, but remained convinced that Boeing was primed to submit a competitive offering once the details were released.

It was not immediately clear when the Air Force would release a revised request for proposals.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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