HASC — Don't Cut Space Test Program or ORS

HASC — Don't Cut Space Test Program or ORS

The hearing was short and sweet, but members of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) got their points across: do not cut two Air Force programs that focus on small satellites — the Space Test Program (STP) and the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program.  They also disagreed with each other over the wisdom of negotiating an international Code of Conduct for outer space activities.

Subcommittee chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) began the hearing by noting that the budget request for unclassified national security space programs is down 22 percent from FY2012.  He expressed concern that many of the cuts are from research and development (R&D) programs and termination of STP and ORS.  General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC), explained that the reduction is due to several factors, including —

  • completion and “ramp down” of some programs,
  • two Wideband Global SATCOM satellites were funded in FY2012 so another is not needed this year,
  • no funding is requested for the Defense Weather Satellite System that Congress terminated last year and the Air Force is not seeking to revive, and
  • difficult choices were made because AFSC had to contribute its “fair share” of cuts to achieve the overall reduction to DOD’s budget required by the Budget Control Act.  

Turner, ranking member Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) pressed the case for restoring funds for STP and ORS.  All heralded the achievements of STP over the past almost five decades, including its role in development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).  They similarly extolled the virtues of the ORS program, whose purpose is to demonstrate that satellites can be built and launched on relatively short schedules to respond to urgent warfighter needs.   One satellite, ORS-1, was launched and according to comments at the hearing was a great success.

Shelton stressed that the ORS concept was not going away, just the program office for it.   He insisted that the idea of building small satellites on short notice was being embraced throughout Air Force space programs, this was only a matter of eliminating the program office. 

As for STP, Shelton and Gil Klinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Intelligence, argued that there are other places in DOD where such R&D takes place and in making difficult budget choices, the decision was made to eliminate STP.  Shelton cited the Air Force Research Lab, the Naval Research Lab, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and “the Army” as alternative places for research.   Heinrich honed in on that comment, asking Shelton if those labs had been consulted to see if they could take up any of the STP work.   Shelton conceded that they were not because of the press of time when final decisions were being made, but coordination is underway now.

Clear divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the wisdom of negotiating an international Code of Conduct (CoC) for outer space activities were evident at the hearing.  The European Union (EU) drafted a CoC that sets out what good behavior is for spacefaring countries — such as not creating space debris — with the idea that it therefore implicitly defines bad behavior.  The United States calls it a good start on an international CoC and has committed to working with the EU and other countries on it.

Turner, however, called it an effort to circumvent the Senate’s role in approving arms control agreements.  Greg Schulte, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, insisted that it would be a non-binding agreement.  Turner was not assuaged and said that language would be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to deal with the situation, but was not more specific.  Sanchez defended the plan to negotiate a CoC saying she was encouraged that the United States will enter into a conversation about it with other countries.

Export control reform was another hot topic, but despite diligent attempts, Sanchez was unable to get Schulte to tell the subcommittee when the final “section 1248” report will be submitted.   It is two years late, she said.  The requirement for a report on the national security implications of moving commercial communications satellites from the State Department’s Munitions List to the Commerce Department’s Control List is in section 1248 of the 2010 NDAA.  DOD submitted an interim report last year, but the final report has not appeared.   Schulte would only say that he “hoped” it would be submitted “very soon.”  He noted that the interim report recommended that commercial communications satellites be transferred to the Commerce Control List and he expected the final report to include other items that similarly could be moved.




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