Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Despite Problems, SBIRS-High Moves Ahead

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-High satellite program is a key component of the USA’s future missile alert system, designed to give maximum warning and monitoring of ballistic missile launches anywhere in the world. The new satellites will replace the existing Defense Support Program (DSP) fleet. Their infrared sensors have 2 times the revisit rate and 3 times the sensitivity of DSP, while providing better persistent coverage.

Unfortunately, the program has been beset by massive cost overruns on the order of 400%, technical challenges that continue to present problems, and uncertain performance. Despite these problems, the U.S. Air Force is proceeding with the program, even as it terminates potential alternatives and supplements.

Lockheed Martin is under currently contract to produce the satellites and payloads, and Northrop Grumman is the subcontracted payload integrator. 

SBIRS-High GEO are satellites. SBIRS-High HEO (High Elliptical Orbit) are payloads hosted on spacecraft with classified launch dates. At present, 2 are in service. The first SBIRS High HEO payload was declared operational in November 2008, and the first SBIRS-High GEO satellite is expected to launch in 2010, after significant delays. 

According to US GAO auditors, the SBIRS program has suffered from immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity, poor oversight, and other problems that have resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns and years in schedule delays. The cost of the program has ballooned from an original $4 billion estimate to over $15 billion.

The FY 2009 defense budget allocated $2.456 billion to SBIRS-High, including $1.913 billion for 2 satellites, long lead materials, etc., and $542.4 million for RDT&E.

The FY 2010 budget allocation of $988.2 million cut the previously proposed SBIRS-High 2010 procurement from 2 satellites to 1. It also intends to fund long-lead materials for the 4th SBIRS-High GEO satellite, the HEO-4 payload, and vehicle integration for the HEO-3 & HEO-4 payloads. RDT&E funding is $521.2 million.

The FY 2011 budget request is $1.525 billion. Its $530 million RDT&E request is average, but procurement costs rise to $995.5 billion for the GEO-4 satellite, lead materials for GEO-5, and continued development of the ground control segment.

Because of continuing problems with SBIRS, the American DoD began a parallel effort in 2006 known as the Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS). AIRSS/3GIRS was intended to ensure that the nation’s missile-warning and defense capabilities can be sustained even in SBIRS-High failed. It could also wind up providing a less expensive supplement to the SBIRS-High constellation, but AIRSS appears to have been shelved as SBIRS lumbered forward.

Contracts and Key Events

GEO-2 in BIST-1

June 7/10: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $183 million contract, finalizing a set of previous production and ground systems modification contracts for the SBIRS GEO satellite, and SBIRS HEO payload. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by SMC/ISSW at Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, CA (FA8810-08-C-0002).

June 3/10: Lockheed Martin Space Systems Corp. in Sunnyvale, CA receives a $10.9 million contract which will provide support for SBIRS-High GEO’s message certification. At this time, $2.4 million has been obligated by the SBISW/PK in El Segundo, CA (F04701-95-C-0017).

May 7/10: The National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) announces that the SBIRS HEO-2 payload and associated ground system have been operationally accepted for the Technical Intelligence mission.

The planning, testing and coordination effort leading to this day involved the NSG, Air Force Space Command, and SMC’s SBIRS Wing. The previous SBIRS HEO-1 was certified on Aug 27/09. USAF Los Angeles AFB.

April 1/10: The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. SBIRS-High makes the list, as the planned constellation rises from 4 to 6 satellites, and other program costs continue to rise:

“SBIRS (Space-Based Infrared System) High – Program costs increased $3,561.1 million (+30.8%) from $11,554.5 million to $15,115.6 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of two Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites from four to six satellites (+$2,164.1 million). There were also increases resulting from the realignment of missile procurement costs to the support category (+$162.8 million), a delay in the GEO 1 launch from 2009 to 2010 (+$372.8 million), revised estimates for implementation of a new ground acquisition strategy (+$393.8 million), and incorporation of the technology maturation and parts obsolescence effort (+$384.0 million).”

March 30/10: The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report. Summary?

“The SBIRS High program continues to experience setbacks that could add to cost overruns and schedule delays. All three of the program’s critical technologies are mature and 99 percent of the expected drawings are releasable. However, program costs continue to increase due to software development problems, hardware quality issues, and testing delays on the first GEO satellite. Unplanned work continues to be a challenge for the software development effort. The program also recently discovered hardware defects on the first GEO satellite. The Air Force’s best-case estimate is that the first GEO satellite launch will be delayed an additional year from December 2009 to December 2010. The HEO payloads continue to perform well on-orbit, and according to program officials, they were accepted for specific mission operations in 2009…. The SBIRS High program remains at high risk for cost and schedule growth. DCMA is currently projecting over $245 million in cost overrun from the current baseline at contract completion. This amount has more than doubled in the past year and continues to steadily grow…. The program’s management reserve… will likely be depleted before the first GEO satellite launches….”

See also the 2009 annual report, and its SBIRS-related 2007 GAO testimony, referenced in “Additional Readings.”

Feb 16/10: Lockheed Martin announces that the SBIRS GEO-2 satellite has completed its first phase of Baseline Integrated System Test (BIST-1) in Sunnyvale, CA.

With the completion of BIST-1, the team will proceed with final factory work on the satellite and prepare for the final, comprehensive BIST milestone, followed by environmental testing. The spacecraft is planned for launch aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle in 2012. SBIRS GEO-1 is preparing for final integration and test activities that will culminate with final checkout and delivery to the Air Force later in 2010.

Feb 2/10: A Pentagon document [PDF] confirms that 3GIRS/AIRSS is being recommended for cancellation as an “unneeded program.”

Jan 15/10: Reuters reports that AIRSS/ 3GIRS is one of several programs on the chopping block for the FY 2011 budget, based on internal Pentagon documents that were leaked to the news service. With SBIRS GEO late and over-budget, but moving forward, the better-performing 3GIRS program is deemed superfluous.

Dec 1/09: A joint U.S. Air Force/Lockheed Martin-led team announces successful thermal vacuum testing of the first SBIRS GEO-1 satellite inside Lockheed Martin’s Dual Entry Large Thermal Altitude (DELTA) chamber. This completes the last of several critical environmental test phases that validate the overall satellite design, quality of workmanship and ability to survive in space. Lockheed Martin.

SBIRS-High components
Some assembly required…

Sept 1/09: A $99.5 million modified contract to Lockheed Martin for the existing engineering, manufacturing, and development contract for the SBIRS-High Component. The Space Based Infrared Systems Wing at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in CA manages the contract (F04701-95-C-0017, P00583).

July 10/09: A $262.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin for long-lead time parts and materials used to build the 4th SBIRS-High satellite (GEO-4) and the 4th HEO payload (HEO-4). At this time $137.1 million has been committed by the Space Based Infrared Systems Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA (FA8810-08-C-0002).

These long-lead effort contracts tend to precede a production contract by a year or more, in order to ensure that required components are already on hand and do not delay assembly.

May 29/09: A cost-plus-fixed-fee contract of up to $1.49 billion to prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, CA for production of the 3rd SBIRS-High satellite (GEO-3, a geosynchronous orbit design), the 3rd payload (HEO-3, a Highly Elliptical Orbit design), and modification of the SBIRS ground systems to accommodate the operation of 3 payloads at the same time.

So far, $1.1 billion has been obligated under the May 29/09 contract. The Space and Missile Center’s Space Based Infrared Systems Wing in El Segundo, CA manages the SIBRS-High contract (FA8810-08-C-0002). See also Lockheed Martin release on the May 29/09 contract.

March 31/09: The US Government Accountability Office auditors release their 2009 Assessments of Selected Weapons Programs. SBIRS – High is one of the programs reviewed, and the report expresses concern about its progress:

“Two of the SBIRS High program’s three critical technologies are mature – a lower level of maturity than last year…. the program has experienced design-related problems, especially with the flight software, and more could still emerge…. Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) assessments indicate that the contractor’s cost and schedule performance are high risks. DCMA is currently projecting a $103 million cost overrun at contract completion, and that amount is growing. Further contractor cost increases and schedule delays are expected…”

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