The Trump administration is fighting a House defense committee for hundreds of millions of additional dollars for a space-based early warning missile system, claiming in a July 9 statement that without the funding the satellite program will be delayed by years and actually cost more in the long run.
The Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system will provide advanced warnings of ballistic missile attacks on the United States, its deployed forces and its allies. The Air Force says OPIR satellites will provide greater missile warning capabilities and be more survivable than the current early warning missile system, the Space Based Infrared System. The Air Force has contracted with Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to build the satellites.
The Pentagon requested $1.4 billion for OPIR for fiscal year 2020—$459 million more than what the Department of Defense anticipated in their budget request for fiscal 2019. On June 12, the House Armed Services Committee voted to authorize $1 billion for the program in fiscal 2020, about $376.4 million less than the Pentagon had asked for.
“The Committee appreciates the importance of the OPIR mission to national security, and the urgent need to field a more resilient capability against growing space threats,” reads a committee report on the bill. “However, the Committee is concerned with the rapid budget growth and the Air Force strategy of relying on significant reprogramming requests to keep the program on schedule.”
Now the administration is pushing back. In a statement released July 9, the White House said it “strongly objects to the Committee’s reduction of $376.4 million for the Next-Gen OPIR program as it would delay delivery by three years and increase overall program costs by over $475 million.”
The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed June 27, includes the full funding requested by the Pentagon for OPIR. Assuming that the House version of the bill passes as is, the difference between the two bills on OPIR funding will have to be addressed in conference negotiations.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.