Under this model, mainstay primes such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin would take a back seat to companies such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman or ITT. Northrop Grumman is the payload provider for AEHF and is building the Enhanced Polar System hosted payload that will extend the reach of high-data-rate protected communications to the extreme northern latitudes.
Madden acknowledges that the government assumes more of the management risk in buying a bus direct from a manufacturer and providing it to a payload provider for integration. For the last 15 years, the government has turned over system-wide management oversight to the bus manufacturer under the failed Total System Performance Responsibility model.
However, Madden is not limiting his review to the space segment. He says the study contracts are designed to explore various pieces of the larger architecture. In one case, he says the government is running multiple missions through the highest cryptographic standard whether they are for nuclear forces or a single tactical operator. “Tactical communications don't need to be [electro-magnetic pulse] protected,” he says.
This realization is driving officials to consider a “disaggregated” architecture that would keep the most stringent protected communications requirements on a host satellite but distribute ancillary functions—such as those for tactical users—to smaller, less robust spacecraft. Those satellites would likely cost less to develop and produce and, possibly, require less expensive launch vehicles. “This is the time to look hard at disaggregation,” Madden says. “That might be the answer, [or] the benefit of separating may cost us more than we can afford.”
Savings could also be garnered in crafting the mission planning tool of the future. Lessons from commercial providers could help reduce the complexity and price of systems. Madden says that with each new constellation comes a new mission planning suite, adding costs. A more universal approach to mission planning that functions on known standards could be a cost-savings opportunity.
Improving standards for terminal development could also reduce the system's price, Madden says. Terminals often cost “tens of billions of dollars” to allow for the full capabilities of a satellite constellation to be distributed globally. By not adhering to rigorous standards, the Pentagon opens itself up to more complex systems to link terminals into the system, he says.
The studies will be complete in 2013 in order to support a formal analysis of alternatives in 2014. Madden says that whatever path is selected from this process will likely see its first major funding in the 2015 budget.
Meanwhile, Madden is negotiating the next contract with Lockheed Martin for Satellites 5 and 6 under the first-ever “block buy” for the system. The deal will be structured as a fixed-price, incentive fee contract that includes performance milestones and is intended to reduce the spacecrafts' prices by 20-40%, he says. He hopes to have the contract finalized by the end of January.
AEHF-4 is tentatively planned for launch in 2017, with -5 in 2018 and -6 in 2019.