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Air Force awards Space Fence, Fab-T contracts

Jun. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The US Air Force awarded the contract for its Space Fence program to Lockheed Martin on June 2. As space launch, such as this Delta IV rocket carrying a GPS satellite into space May 16, becomes more common, space situational awareness will remain vital.
The US Air Force awarded the contract for its Space Fence program to Lockheed Martin on June 2. As space launch, such as this Delta IV rocket carrying a GPS satellite into space May 16, becomes more common, space situational awareness will remain vital. (Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — The Air Force announced two major awards today, awarding Lockheed Martin the contract for its Space Fence program and Raytheon the winner of its Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T) system.

The $914.7 million Space Fence contract puts the world’s largest defense company in charge of developing the Space Fence system, a key asset in the service’s plans for space situational awareness (SSA). Lockheed was in competition with Raytheon for the program.

The contract awards Lockheed $415 million for RDT&E efforts immediately, while the rest will be earned over the course of the 52 period the company has before it must reach initial operational capability.

Space Fence consists of a large S-band radar on the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean. Due to its proximity to the equator, Kwajalein provides a wide angle for the radar to take in as much of the sky as possible. With the Earth’s rotation, the stationary radar creates a “fence” through which everything in space should pass through over the course of 24 hours.

The fence replaces the Air Force Space Surveillance System, an older design made up of three transmitter stations and six receiving stations across the southern portion of the US. That program was mothballed last year in a budget reduction move.

If the service can find money in the future, it wants to invest in a second site in Australia. Whether that happens is up in the air, given funding uncertainty for the Pentagon going forward.

The SSA issue was a hot topic during May’s National Space Symposium, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Gen. William Shelton, the head of the Air Force’s space command, highlighted how space has become more crowded while tracking capabilities have failed to keep up.

“Currently, we track more than 23,000 objects in space,” Shelton said in his May 20 keynote address. “However, our sensors cannot see the estimated 500,000 pieces of debris between 1 and 10 centimeters in size. We’ve learned some lessons the hard way with orbital collisions and this increased traffic in space is causing collision-avoidance maneuvers at a pace we’ve never before experienced. After five decades of relatively benign operations, space is becoming an increasingly challenging place to operate.”

The service wanted to award on the program a year ago, but was forced to delay while the Pentagon finished its Strategic Choices and Management Review.

Lockheed has said it views SSA as a potentially rich market space to move into. The company is pushing its SPOT program, a ground-based SSA asset, as a potential companion for Space Fence.

Steve Bruce, vice president for Advanced Systems at Lockheed’s Mission Systems and Training business, discussed the company’s plans for Space Fence in April. He told reporters Monday that the company was “extremely excited” by the contract award.

“This is a really not only national but worldwide issue, and when this system comes online it will be a national and world asset,” Bruce said of the program, reiterating that the company is confident it will have Space Fence up and running by 2018.

The contract is designed with a series of options for the Air Force. The most notable ones are the option to develop the second site, located outside of Perth, Australia, as well as a pair of logistic support contracts for the first site.

The Air Force would have the option of developing the second site after the first site has completed its testing process. That option requires Lockheed to have the Australian site up and running roughly three years after the 2018 IOC date for the Kwajalein location.

Bruce declined to comment on how much the larger contract, with all the options included, could be worth. But based on the amount of work included in those options, it could easily be worth another $1 billion.

The open question now is whether Raytheon will challenge the award. It has a ten day window in which to issue a challenge. Bruce declined to speculate on whether Raytheon would issue a challenge.

“Raytheon is the world leader in advanced radar technology, and has successfully designed, developed and deployed large radars around the globe, including in austere locations like Thule, Greenland,” Michael Nachshen, company spokesman, said in a statement. “Raytheon has been notified by the Air Force on their Space Fence decision; pending our post-decision debrief with the Air Force, it is inappropriate to comment at this time.”

Raytheon selected for FAB-T

In better news for Raytheon, the Air Force has selected it as the winner to produce its Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T) system.

The $298 million contract gives the Massachusetts-based company a major win against incumbent Boeing.

The FAB-T program provides the nation’s leaders with secure command and control communications, even in the event of a nuclear war. The terminals are designed to work with the service’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, network of secure satellites.

The program calls for the procurement of 84 command post terminals for America’s fleet of B-2, B-52 and RC-135 aircraft. While that is a sizable number, the original vision for the FAB-T program called for 100 more terminals.

The contract language, released by the Air Force Monday evening, noted that the contract was for the command post terminals only and includes options for future systems.

“As a result of this down-select decision, low rate initial production, full rate production and interim contractor support contract options may be exercised to deliver FAB-T CPT-Only Terminals,” reads the service’s official contract language, released Monday evening. “The Phase 2 production contract options for LRIP, FRP, and ICS may be exercised after completion of Milestone C. Fiscal 2013 through 2019 aircraft and other procurement funds are programmed for this effort, with $31,274 being obligated at time of award.”

As with all major contract awards, Boeing now has ten days to consider a protest of the award.

“Boeing is disappointed by the decision,” company spokesman Richard Esposito wrote in a statement. “We will request a formal debrief from the Air Force and will determine a path forward after that formal debrief is completed.”

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