A spending bill making its way through the Senate includes at least $1 billion more for hypersonics and hypersonics defense than what the Pentagon requested in March.
While the formal language for the legislation, which was passed by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense Sept. 10., has yet to be released, a summary distributed by the subcommittee claims that the bill sets aside extra funding to several hypersonic-related programs across the Department of Defense.
The bill also furthers the debate over how to pay for an early warning missile defense satellite system built to detect hypersonic weapons that has become a point of contention between the House and Senate. While the House has expressed concerns with the $1.4 billion the Pentagon requested for the program, the Senate bill bumps funding for the satellite system to nearly $2 billion.
“The bill includes significant investments in both basic research and future technologies such as hypersonics, 5G, artificial intelligence, missile defense, and cybersecurity. We must continue to make investments today that demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that our Armed Forces are well-trained, well-equipped and better prepared than any other around the world, and this bill does that,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee on defense, said in a statement.
The bill includes $108 million for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, which is being developed by the Missile Defense Agency and is meant to bolster the United States’ ability to track hypersonic weapons. Military leaders believe the current missile defense infrastructure is ill-prepared for that threat. The MDA listed the space-based sensor among its 10 top unfunded priorities in a report to Congress earlier this year.
The subcommittee also included $237.8 million to fill the unfunded requirement of accelerating hypersonic defense programs.
On the other side of the hypersonic equation, the legislation provides $576 million for Air Force hypersonics prototyping and provides an additional $14 million for directed energy and hypersonic weapons prototyping programs. It also fully funds the Army’s request for $228 million for hypersonics and throws in an additional $150.6 million for development of a common hypersonic glide body.
The summary noted that the subcommittee recommends an additional $225.3 million for test and evaluation infrastructure for hypersonics, space, directed energy and cyber.
While the summary doesn’t list appropriations for every satellite program, it does note that the legislation provides the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program $536 million beyond the $1.4 billion requested by the Pentagon. The additional funding appears to be a response to recent reprogramming requests from the Air Force to drive more money to the program now so that the satellites are ready by 2025.
OPIR will succeed the Space Based Infrared System as the nation’s next generation early warning missile system. The Air Force has contracted with Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to build the satellites.
Funding for OPIR has been a point of contention between the Senate and the House versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, with the White House wading into the battle to argue for the full amount requested by the Pentagon. The Department of Defense initially requested $1.4 billion for OPIR in fiscal year 2020, but the House balked at the amount, which is a $459 million increase over what the Pentagon projected for their 2020 budget request a year earlier. While the Senate authorized full funding for the bill, the House authorized just $1 billion for the program ― $376.4 million less than the Pentagon requested ― arguing that the Pentagon had failed to explain the increase.
In a July 9 statement on the legislation, the White House weighed in, claiming that a failure to provide the full $1.4 billion would result in delays and increased costs in the long run.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the spending bill Sept. 12.
Nathan Strout is the staff editor at C4ISRNET where he covers the intelligence community.