Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 31, 2015

Official Says Pentagon Wants Satellite Launch Competition; Lawmakers Unsure

The Pentagon’s acquisition boss took some guff at a House hearing over a massive satellite launch contract that has prompted a lawsuit by a company that thinks it got shoved aside unfairly.

Questioned by a couple lawmakers at the Armed Services hearing Thurdsay over the Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicle program that could cost up to $70 billion through 2030, which is the subject of a court fight initiated by SpaceX over a sole source contract given to United Launch Alliance, Frank Kendall said the Defense Department does indeed want competition on launches — up to a point.

“Now, it could be they’ve looked at it and said, ‘We don’t think you’re going to be able to make what we need,’” said the top Democrat on the panel, Adam Smith of Washington, referring to SpaceX. “I don’t know. It seems like they can. But it also seems like there’s a — there’s an incumbent bias there that is robbing us in some instances of the innovation of the sort of new companies and new technologies.”

Kendall said the intent was to “do launches with ULA that only ULA can do.” He continued:

We want to have reasonable assurance that new entrants are going to have the capability to deliver with — with high reliability. So, we’re going through that process. We’ve been aggressive about bringing — SpaceX is the one that’s currently going through the process — about bringing SpaceX in…

That said, we’re also very concerned about mission assurance. Now, we’ve had a very large number of successful launches and it’s very expensive to dump a satellite — a billion dollar satellite — into the ocean.

He also said he understood that competition was the best way to drive costs down.

But he faced more skepticism later, this time from Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

“It appears that the Air Force has completely ignored your directives to introduce meaningful competition aggressively, and it appears that the Air Force has deferred meaningful competition for many years in the future by protecting its sole source arrangement with the incumbent provider of space launch services,” he said.

Kendall answered that a request for proposal where SpaceX and others could compete was around the corner in fiscal year 2015.

“SpaceX is coming along. There are other potential competitors coming along that need to go through the certification process, and our intent is to get them into — into competition as quickly as possible,” he said. “We are going to be very soon releasing an RFP for our first competitive bids for launch. That’s an F.Y. ’15 acquisition.”

  • Arthur Hamilton

    What a load of horse manure from the Air Force. A few type “A” control freaks, of which the Air Force is saturated with, pushed this through by deliberately ignoring instructions sent down the chain to be competitive. I wonder if the high marks on the performance appraisal was worth it at billions of dollars cost to the DOD.

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