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Air Force fiscal 2013 budget invests in critical space capabilities

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Investment in space programs was a priority in this year's Air Force budget, according to Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton.

Air Force leaders sought to sustain and modernize the capabilities that enable the service to support the Department of Defense's new strategic guidance, Conaton told reporters during a media roundtable Feb. 17 in the Pentagon.

The U.S. military continues to rely heavily on Air Force space programs for a wide variety of activities that allow the military to be effective on the battlefield, she said.

As the Air Force went into the current budget cycle, she said, Air Force leaders were committed to aligning the service with the new DOD strategic guidance released Jan. 5, which included protecting programs in the budget that support main Air Force mission areas such as space.

"You see space highlighted in a variety of parts of the (DOD) strategy as critical to the full variety of missions that we take on, from the counterterrorism fight on the low end to the anti-access, area-denial challenge on the high end," she said.

Conaton said that key capabilities such as missile warning, satellite communications, launch and space situational awareness were protected in this year's budget to ensure continued support to warfighters and space operations around the globe.

Addressing the reduction in overall funding levels for the fiscal 2013 space program budget over last year, the undersecretary explained that this was due to four reasons.

"First, a lot of our programs have moved out of the developmental phase and are in production at this point," Conaton said. "Obviously, that has a different funding profile.

"Second, our partners in Congress were incredibly generous in helping to robust the Wideband Global Satellite communications program, which allowed us to not have to fund additional satellites in that program this year," she said.

Third, Congress decided to terminate the Defense Weather Satellite System program, so funding for that was no longer needed in the fiscal 2013 budget, Conaton said.

And lastly, she said, the Air Force had to make some hard budget decisions on what areas could be scaled back or cut from the space program.

"When we looked at things like the Satellite Modernization Initiative line ... we had to take some reductions there," she said. "The department also decided to go a different path in terms of how we deal with operationally responsive space and to no longer use a stand-alone ORS program."

Conaton also addressed the Air Force's acquisition strategy for space.

"We continue with our Efficient Space Procurement program, which includes what we called (Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency) last year," she said. "So block buys of satellites, fixed price contracts, continued investment in research and development, and a modified funding profile through advanced appropriations over multiple years."

She said the other area that the Air Force is spending a lot of time on right now is launch, which has become increasingly expensive.

"The Department of the Air Force, along with our partners in the (National Reconnaissance Office) and in NASA, are committed to finding a way to get the best deal for the taxpayer, recognizing that launch continues to be at the core of what we do in the space business," Conaton said.