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BMD Focus: Fighting For Radar Funds

File photo of the Fylingdales early warning radar.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Sep 29, 2005
Senior officers in the U.S. Air Force Space Command are fuming that the Missile Defense Agency won't give them the money they need to upgrade their crucial early warning radars, potentially threatening America's anti-ballistic missile defense system currently being deployed in Alaska and California.

And the Air Force officers have brought their complaints to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"According to the officials, without the test equipment the operation of upgraded early warning radars could be degraded," the GAO warned this month in a report presented to the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the House of Representatives' Committee on Armed Services.

The report was entitled "Defense Acquisitions Actions Needed to Ensure Adequate Funding for Operation and Sustainment of the Ballistic Missile Defense System" (GAO-05-817).

The early warning radars at the Beale, Calif., and Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, England, early warning stations need to be upgraded, but the funds have not been allocated to do it and an entire systems programming agency needs to be provided to support the necessary upgrades in both hardware and software at both bases, the GAO said in an appendix to the report entitled "Air Force Officials Concerned with Some MDA Funding Plans."

"Air Force Space Command officials told us that a systems programming agency is needed to support software and hardware changes to the Beale and Fylingdales early warning radars once they are upgraded," the GAO report said.

"The Air Force currently has a systems programming agency in place to support hardware and software development for the early-warning radar. However, neither the MDA nor the Air Force has included funds in their budgets to establish a systems programming agency for the upgraded Beale and Fylingdales radars," the report said.

The issue is an urgent one, the Air Force Space Command officers said. "Space Command officials told us that a systems programming agency is of particular importance because the upgraded early warning radar is very dependent on commercial off-the-shelf equipment that often has a short life cycle," the GAO report said. "... The officials said that if a replacement part operates nanoseconds faster or slower than the old part, the radar could fail or possibly generate false missile reports."

The Air Force has included funds in its own 2008-2011 budgets to upgrade the systems programming agency so that its hardware and software would always be identical to the software and hardware in the operational radar," the report said.

"An official in the Air Force's Missile Warning and Defense Office within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations told us that the Air Force included approximately $59 million in its fiscal year 2006-2011 budgets to acquire and sustain devices that detect incursions at Vandenberg Air Force Base and to improve test equipment for upgraded early warning radars located at Beale Air Force Base and at Fylingdales Air Force station in the United Kingdom," the report said.

"However, the official told us that the cost of acquiring and sustaining the detection devices and the test equipment is expected to exceed planned funding," it said.

The Air Force, indeed, is the only U.S. armed service involved in missile defense to have so far thought of budgeting funds for support equipment for it. But the funds it has already set aside for the systems programming agency are not sufficient to do the job and the MDA has so far refused to come up with any more money to help them, despite its own immensely generous funding.

The GAO was told that the Air Force believed the MDA would pay for the development cost of the new systems programming agency and that the Air Force's own funds currently allocated for that purpose were not sufficient to do it. Space Command officials estimate the systems program agency alone could cost as much as $88 million.

MDA officials have denied that their agency has agreed to fund the systems program agency as the Air Force has requested.

"In a written response to a draft of this report, MDA officials said that MDA has not agreed to fund a system programming agency for upgraded early-warning radar as the Air Force has requested," the GAO said.

Although the squabble appears petty, it could threaten the capabilities of the MDA and Space Command to protect American cities from thermonuclear obliteration.

"Without system programming agency, the officials said changes will be made directly to the operational radar (at Beale and Fylingdales) decreasing operational availability and increasing operational risks," the GAO report warned.

The dispute, as well as having potentially grave consequences that could put the lives of tens of millions of Americans at risk, reveals the depth and intensity of bureaucratic infighting between rival agencies and armed forces charged with developing ballistic missile defense.

And it also reveals the remarkable extent to which different services and agencies, eager to push ahead with high-profile program development, have neglected funding for vital support material and spare parts.

"No military service has budgeted funds for procurement of elements or components, and only the Air Force has included funds in its budget for support equipment," the GAO said in its report.

All rights reserved. � 2005 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International.. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

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Pentagon: Test Of Alaska Missile Defense Radar Is Successful
Washington (AFP) Sep 26, 2005
The Pentagon's said Monday it successfully tested an upgraded surveillance radar in Alaska for the first time as part of a national missile defense system.

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