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Young Spanks Air Force; Talks MRAP Light and More

The Air Force generally does a rotten job of managing and budgeting for space programs. That was the strongest message sent today by John Young, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, as he discussed the 2010 budget and acquisition in general during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters today.

Although Young said he didn't want to single out the service, that's just what he did repeatedly during the almost two-hour session.

"Based on the 2010 POM they are not performing well," Young said, who separately described the interference and gaming of the services during the budget as a "cancer." It began with a discussion of the Transformational Satellite program, T-Sat. Young said "there are camps" in the Pentagon that "have consistently wanted to club the T-Sat for more reason than it's a very expensive program." The camp's identity became clear a few second later when Young noted that the Air Force "underfunded" T-Sat in the 2009 budget.

Then Young listed a litany of space programs the Air Force had either mismanaged or underfunded. Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) is still emerging from a Nunn-McCurdy breach and apparently has not solved a software problem that has bedeviled it for more than a year. Ground terminals needed for the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) weren't built in time to receive data from the satellites. And the Air Force goofed and didn't budget to ensure the Wideband Gapfiller System would continue to provide data to 27 weapon systems. "It's beyond me," Young said in exasperation with the MUOS oversight, adding that the Pentagon had found money to keep the data flowing.

I asked Young if he would move the executive agent for space, currently vested in Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, to a joint or OSD perch. The executive agent oversees all military space programs. Young made clear he did not think the Air Force was the right place: "I would never put it there." He indicated that Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England is being given analytic data to move the executive agent to a joint perch. One likely candidate for the job: Josh Hartman, currently director for space and intelligence capabilities in Young's office.

In other acquisition news:

"MRAP Light:" Young said the Pentagon is moving ahead on just how to meet the need for well protected vehicles that can handle the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, saying the upcoming supplemental "may have room for additional vehicles for Afghanistan." Young was very careful to avoid saying there is an actual program here yet, but they are clearly headed that way. One of the possibilities being discussed is grabbing the nascent Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program and getting it to Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Young was very cautious not to say that JLTV was the solution, but he did say it was being discussed as a possible part of the solution.

In a conference call with reporters this morning, the BAE Systems JLTV program lead told me that most of the subsystems on the JLTV prototype are at TRL 7 (Technology Readiness Level), the first level at which a system could be considered ready to undergo operational test and evaluation. When I told Young this, he laughed and said he bet that BAE Systems would sell their system for $1.98 a copy. Then he added, with a very big smile, that he appreciated BAE's input.

Young will discuss the MRAP Light issue with Defense Secretary Robert Gates next week.

Tanker: Young said Europeans needed to get over the idea that postponing the tanker contract was a protectionist act. He countered, noting that Europeans have made a number of protectionist acquisition decisions over the years. Also, he released the government estimates of the tanker bids from Northrop Grumman and Boeing: $12.5 billion for Northrop and $15.4 billion for Boeing.

He reiterated his opposition to a split buy, saying that because of the increased costs to support two manufacturers it "would be a very bad decision for the taxpayer and for the nation."

DDG 51 vs DDX: "I think there is a substantial additional amount of analytical work to done on surface combatants," Young said. He added that restarting the DDG 51 and building them at a low rate may mean the ships will cost $2 billion each compared to $2.5 billion for the DDX. He also said the Pentagon needed to get "a better feel for the costs" of DDX.

Next administration: Although some Democrats recently have bandied about ideas of substantial cuts to the Pentagon budget, Young said the next administration will confront the simple fact that the nation has been banging up its weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan and the costs of recapitalizing these have not been covered by either the budgets or by the supplementals. And if a weapon has a sound requirement and is being funded any administration is going to find it difficult to cut.

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