Ash Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, has told the Air Force to come up with alternatives to the deeply troubled NPOESS weather satellite program run by Northrop Grumman. He told me today that he issued a directive to the service about 10 days ago giving them 30 days to come up with alternatives and to provide some costs. I hear it was a formal Acq1uisition Decision Memorandum, although no “decision” is at hand yet. But Carter and the Air Force will be hard-pressed to avoid what is beginning to look like the final legislative steamroller for a program that encountered serious and persistent technical problems, and may have been been the most ridiculously structured program ever, with DoD, Commerce and NASA sharing management responsibility — sort of.
The first sign that Congress has finally decided to fix one of the messiest programs in DoD’s substantial inventory of messes came today when the House Armed Services Committee voted to cut $300 million from the program, leaving a token $25 million in the kitty. Word from the Hill is that the other defense committees have finally and completely lost patience with the endless delays, technical problems and managerial cockups and will move to cut most funding over the next few months.
When I asked Carter about the HASC move to cut $300 million he expressed concern, largely because he wants to make sure the Air Force has the money it needs to ensure it can build whatever it decides it needs. Air Force officials have been moving for some time to the conclusion that they must put up their own satellite to ensure there are no gaps in the Pentagon’s critical weather coverage.