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By Debbie Gregory.

Just how much should be budgeted to create the Space Force military branch championed by President Trump? The estimates offered up by senior defense officials are not even close.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan believes the price tag will come in a “single digit, not a double-digit” billions of dollars. “It might be lower than $5” billion, he said, although he did not specify what time frame that estimate would cover.

But Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has estimated that standing up a Space Force and a new combatant command for space warfare would cost about $13 billion over five years.

“Our cost estimate that we gave to a lot of people in the Pentagon in September was the cost of a fully-fledged, stand-alone department and also a unified combatant command,” Wilson said. “The president is going to be making some decisions to put forward a proposal in concert with his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal that will go to the Congress in February. The costs will be really based on what are the elements in the model in that proposal.”

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimated it would cost the Pentagon an additional $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion over five years to stand up a new service, based on the assumption that more than 96 percent of the cost would be covered from existing budget accounts within DoD. Harrison’s numbers, however, are hard to compare directly with Wilson’s because they do not include costly items that she put into her proposal, such as a Space Command and additional programs and people needed to fight rising space rivals China and Russia.

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Air Force announced the award of three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and United Launch Alliance.

The $500 million award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The $792 million award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The $967 million award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Defense Department has the option to narrow it to two companies no later than 2020 that will then compete for future launches.

Blue Origin was awarded for the preliminary work and will build its New Glenn Launch System.

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems will manufacture its OmegA Launch System.

United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will develop its Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

With the Congressional mandate to transition away from reliance on foreign rocket propulsion systems, and the planned Delta IV retirement, the Air Force developed an acquisition strategy to accelerate National Security Space launch requirements.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in a statement. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us, and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

“Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer,” Wilson added.

While the prototypes are being developed, the Air Force will continue to competitively award commercial launch services contracts to providers who demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify and deliver launch systems and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver National Security Space satellites to orbit.

“I’m excited to announce these creative partnerships that directly support the Air Force’s strategy to drive innovation and leverage commercial industry,” said Dr. William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. “These awards are a leap forward in space launch capabilities, ensuring continued U.S. dominance in space,” Roper added.

Boeing Awarded $2.4B Contract for New Helicopters

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By Debbie Gregory.

Boeing has been awarded a $2.38 billion contract by the U.S. Air Force to provide 84 of its MH-139 helicopter and related support (training devices and support equipment) to replace the more than 40-year-old UH-1N “Huey” helicopters, used to protect America’s intercontinental ballistic missile bases.

“We’re grateful for the Air Force’s confidence in our MH-139 team,” said David Koopersmith, vice president and general manager, Boeing Vertical Lift. “The MH-139 exceeds mission requirements, it’s also ideal for VIP transport, and it offers the Air Force up to $1 billion in acquisition and lifecycle cost savings.”

The MH-139 derives from the Leonardo AW139, which is used by more than 270 governments, militaries and companies worldwide. Leonardo will assemble the helicopters at its northeast Philadelphia plant, with Boeing integrating military-specific components at its facility south of that city.

“The new helicopter will be an important tool for Airmen charged with securing and defending the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Air Force said in a statement announcing the award.

The MH-139 helicopters will be the product of a joint effort between Boeing and Leonardo. Leonardo will assemble the helicopters at its northeast Philadelphia plant, with Boeing integrating military-specific components at its facility south of that city.

Earlier this year, six U.S. Senators wrote a letter to the Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson urging the Air Force to expedite the acquisition of a replacement helicopter.

Hueys first entered Air Force service in 1970.

“We’re proud to provide the U.S. Air Force with solutions across the entire services ecosystem,” said Ed Dolanski, president of U.S. Government Services, Boeing Global Services. “With the AW139 platform’s more than 2 million flight hours and established supply chain, we look forward to applying our expertise to drive cost savings while supporting mission readiness.”

The first delivery of an operational helicopter is expected in Fiscal Year 2021.

U.S. Air Force Awards $7.2 Billion GPS Satellite Contract

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Air Force announced that Lockheed Martin will receive a $7.2 billion contract to manufacture 22 Global Positioning System satellites.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said the new generation of GPS satellites, called GPS 3 follow-on, or GPS 3F, is more resistant to interference and electronic attacks.

“These satellites will provide greater accuracy and improved anti-jamming capabilities, making them more resilient.”

The satellites are expected to be available for launch into space beginning in 2026.

“The world is dependent on GPS, from getting directions to getting cash from an ATM machine or trading on the stock exchange,” Wilson said.

“This investment in GPS 3 continues to advance our capabilities into the future,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein.

In 2008, Lockheed Martin was selected by the Air Force to build the first 10 GPS 3 satellites. In February, the Air Force requested competitive bids for the next batch of 22, but only Lockheed Martin submitted a proposal. Other military satellite manufacturers like Boeing and Northrop Grumman that were expected to challenge Lockheed Martin decided not to.

The Air Force experienced a number of setbacks and schedule delays in the production of the first 10 GPS 3 satellites.

Timely production of GPS satellites is critical as the current constellation of 31 GPS 2 satellites in orbit will have to be replaced over the next decade. The first GPS 3 launch was scheduled for March, 2018, but has been delayed.

According to the agreement, the $7.2 billion fixed-price deal ensures that the “contractor, not the taxpayer would be responsible for any cost overruns.”

The first vehicle of the GPS 3 constellation arrived at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 20th in anticipation of a December 15th launch.