US: The US Air Force is considering terminating a multibillion-dollar weather satellite being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp, Reuters reported. The move came as the Air Force hunts for ways to trim its budget and help the Pentagon achieve about USD 489 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.
Termination will have serious consequences for hundreds of Northrop employees who are building the first DWSS satellite at the company’s facility in Redondo Beach, California. The first of the DWSS satellites was slated to be launched in 2018, with a system readiness review — initially planned next month — now due to be done in March 2012.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson said the decision would be short-sighted and could have life-or-death consequences if approved, since the military could in the future lack critical information about cloud cover, precipitation, surface conditions and weather conditions on the battlefield.
According to Northrop, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) would provide accurate weather information (that) is vital to national security and critical for our warfighters to be able perform their missions. Termination of the DWSS would mark the culmination of saga that began nearly two decades ago, when the White House ordered the Pentagon and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to work on a single next-generation weather satellite that could satisfy both civilian and military needs.
Earlier, Northrop won a contract in August 2002 to build the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System or NPOESS, for the military, weather forecasters and NASA at a cost of about USD 7 billion. But the cost doubled amid technical challenges, schedule changes and changing requirements, prompting the White House in February 2010 to cancel the planned joint program and order NOAA and the Pentagon to proceed with separate programs to replace their respective weather satellites on orbit.
The congressional watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, warned in June 2010 that both agencies faced possible satellite coverage gaps and other risks as a result of the changes, a message it reiterated more urgently in testimony to lawmakers last month.
Thompson said China began orbiting state-of-the-art weather satellites in 2010 that will collect precise readings about regional weather conditions, while the U.S. military was relying on satellites built in the 1960s that transmitted black and white images and were unable to detect many vital variations in weather conditions.