WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee wants to put restrictions on the Space Force’s plan to buy a 12th wideband communications satellite from Boeing until the service certifies whether its needs could be met by commercial providers.
The provision, included in the committee’s draft fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act released June 12, would bar the service from buying the Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft until the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions and integration provides such confirmation. The committee will vote on the bill June 21.
The Space Force never requested funding for the WGS satellite; the finances came from a congressional add-on of $442 million to the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Act.
The service has 10 WGS satellites in orbit, and Boeing plans to deliver an 11th by 2024. The systems provide voice, data and video communications for operators around the world, and WGS-11 will have twice the capability of its predecessors, increasing the coverage it provides to operators.
At the same time, the Space Force is working with Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop a new military communication satellite payload, dubbed Protected Tactical SATCOM, that’s focused on improving anti-jamming capabilities. Both companies’ payloads are expected to fly in demonstrations in 2024.
This isn’t the first time Congress has pushed back on the service’s plans for military satellite communications — and WGS in particular. The constellation was expected to feature 10 satellites, but in 2018 lawmakers added $600 million for two more.
In 2019, the Air Force — which oversaw military space programs prior to the creation of the Space Force — awarded Boeing a $605 million contract for the more capable 11th satellite, but did not announce plans to buy a 12th spacecraft.
Elsewhere in the committee’s draft bill, lawmakers want to limit the travel budget of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb until his office submits two key reports Congress requested in FY22: one on classified programs managed by the Space Force and a second reviewing the Defense Department’s overarching space policy.
The committee also shared broader concerns that Plumb’s office has been unresponsive to congressional reporting requirements.
“Congress established the office of Assistant Secretary for Space Policy in 2019 at the same time as the Space Force was established,” the bill stated. “Despite elevating the position, the office has repeatedly not responded to mandates by Congress for unclassified reports on space policy issues.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.