SBIRS Still Facing Challenges

SBIRS Still Facing Challenges

General Robert Kehler, head of Air Force Space Command, told the annual conference of the Air Force Association that “persistent hardware and software problems” with the Space Based Infrared Satellite System (SBIRS) “have not yet been solved,” according to DODBuzz.

SBIRS (formerly SBIRS-High) has been plagued with problems since its inception in 1996 and has suffered repeated “Nunn-McCurdy” breaches requiring DOD to restructure the program and recertify the need for it. It is intended to replace the Defense Support Program (DSP) early warning satellites, though it has a broader set of requirements. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued numerous reports about SBIRS. In May 2009 testimony on challenges facing DOD space programs, GAO noted that the cost for SBIRS has grown to $12.2 blllion, $7.5 billion more than its original estimate, while the number of geosynchronous satellites has been reduced from five to four and the launch of the first GEO satellite has been delayed by 7 years. (The SBIRS program also is designed to have sensors on satellites in highly elliptical orbits (HEO); the first two of those have been launched. Originally there was a companion “SBIRS-Low” program, now the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. For a summary of SBIRS’ history, see GAO’s 2008 report.)

The 2009 GAO testimony stated that the SBIRS program planned to have a new plan in place by June 2009, but in its report (S. Rept. 111-74) on the DOD appropriations bill last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee said that the committee was informed in June of additional schedule delays and cost increases “associated with a number of parts quality issues.”

Acknowledging the challenges with SBIRS, the Air Force requested funds in the FY2010 budget for a follow-on system called Third Generation Infra-Red Surveillance program or 3GIRS. The Senate Appropriations Committee said that “Due to the chronic problems [with SBIRS] and the importance of missile warning for national security,” the committee supports 3GIRS. The House-passed version of the bill (H.R. 3326, H. Rept. 111-230) cuts the $143 million request for 3GIRS by $104 million, leaving only $39 million.

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