Congress takes it easy on DOD budget

Program cuts not as severe as those DOD had in previous years

survivor: The Transformational Satellite Communications Program's proposed cut of $130 million is much less than the proposed cuts it faced in previous years.

Funding for several IT programs took a significant hit in the $447 billion fiscal 2007 Defense appropriations bill. But the effect might not be as bad as in previous years.

President Bush signed legislation last Friday, while Congress also approved an authorization bill giving DOD $532.8 billion in budget authority.

Both measures include $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authorization bill is awaiting presidential signature.

One program that has been taking it on the chin in recent budget cycles is the Transformational Satellite Communications program. Even though lawmakers slashed TSAT by $130 million in the appropriations bill 'due to concerns over the amount of program growth,' in previous years the attempts to cut the program were more severe.

'The fact that TSAT was cut by only $100 million in the authorization bill is actually a good sign,' said John Edwards, an analyst with Forecast International in Newtown, Conn. 'In earlier years, we were looking at cuts of $200 million to $400 million.'

The budget authorization of $767 million for TSAT means the program can be 'fielded in a reasonable amount of time, by 2015,' Edwards said.

Lawmakers also took aim at the Space Radar program, decreasing it $80 million 'due to uncertainties with the program,' according to the House and Senate conference report.

The pending Defense authorization bill cuts TSAT by $100 million and Space Radar by $66 million.

Cuts in the Space Radar program are the flip side of the same coin, according to Edwards. 'The Air Force may be willing to take cuts in Space Radar in order to accelerate TSAT.'

The Space Radar program is 'not well defined at all,' he added. 'I'm surprised it was not cut more.' The appropriation and authorization bills both provide $3.5 billion for the Army's Future Combat Systems, a $300 million increase over 2006 budget funding but $250 million less than requested by the administration.

FCS is designed to link manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, unattended ground sensors, and a non-line-of-sight cannon-and-launch system via a common computer network known as the System of Systems Common Operating Environment, and the War- fighter Information Network-Tactical program.

'It looks like Congress split the difference,' said Dean Lockwood, also a Forecast International analyst. 'There is palpable uneasiness about the future of this program. Congress has serious doubts about where all this money is going.'

The Army's strategy, according to Lockwood, is to 'front load' by 'getting what it can out of FCS while the funding is still there.'

The cornerstone of this approach, he added, is to forgo the original FCS vision in favor of incorporating the FCS communications architecture onto existing Army platforms.

FCS cost concerns

The authorization bill also expressed concern over FCS.

Conferees are worried that FCS programs are at risk of becoming unaffordable and are requiring the Defense Acquisition Board to review FCS' growing costs. Legislators will limit FCS funds to $2.85 billion in any year after 2007 until funding priorities outlined in the report are met. (Army officials have disputed criticisms from the Hill.)

The appropriations bill provides funding for two F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and puts aside funds for twelve additional F-35s in fiscal 2008. This marks the transition for the F-35 from R&D to production and is 'a very big step,' according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

'Delays in production cause cost increases, and politicians like to go after that,' he said. In the past, Congress balked at funding the program for budgetary and technology maturity reasons.

Other highlights of the appropriations bill include:
  • $2.6 billion for the DD(X) destroyers, high-tech combatant ships featuring sophisticated automation systems that will allow them to operate with smaller crews than older destroyers

  • $521 million for two Littoral Combat Ships

  • $1.5 billion for various command-and-control equipment for Marine Corps vehicles

  • $40 million reduction to the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet program due to 'unjustified growth.' (The authorization bill cut $70 million from this program.)

GCN staff writers Dawn S. Onley and Kerri Hostetler contributed to this story.

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