The U.S. House of Representatives issued a rebuke to the Air Force’s long-awaited space object tracking system in the annual defense authorization bill, which passed May 24.
An amendment to the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act restricted all funding to the Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System (JMS) until the Pentagon can show Congress that the program’s contract embraces “best-in-breed” technology to fill gaps in current space situational capabilities.
The White House objected to the decision from Congress, arguing that excessive oversight will impose a burden on the Air Force, further delaying the already time strained program.
“This provision will add additional cost and schedule to [JMS] and delay delivery of a critical space situational awareness capability to the warfighter,” administration officials said in a statement.
A final version of the bill must pass both chambers of Congress.
The Government Accountability Office released a report May 24 detailing the continued setbacks of the second increment of JSpOC JMS. The report says the program has been delayed by two years and 11 months and attributed the slip to the $18.9 million in funding reductions through fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
The GAO has said the total cost of the second increment of the program is about $320 million.
The JMS will replace the Air Force’s Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC), a system long begrudged by officials as dilapidated and difficult to maintain. Gen. John Hyten, the former head of Air Force Space Command, once described the legacy system as “that ancient engine that can’t take data from anywhere unless it’s one of ours.”
Despite continued calls for system upgrades, the new system is currently scheduled to be launched in June 2019, almost three years later than its original schedule date of July 2016. In the GAO’s analysis of the program, the congressional watchdog was unable to obtain performance data from JMS because the program is still in an “early development” phase.
In September 2016, after missing a key deadline, the Air Force issued to Congress a critical change report regarding the JMS, formally eliminating several of the program’s capability goals and delaying its estimated delivery date from July 2016 to May 2019.
The JMS is part of a larger effort from the Air Force to modernize the Joint Space Operations Center, the processing center of U.S. military space operations. The program aims to replace or upgrade the hardware and software currently used for space surveillance, collision avoidance, launch support, and providing more precise and timely orbital information from data gathered the service’s object tracking system, known as Space Fence.