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NRO Pledges On-Budget Spy Sats

In his first public appearance, the director of the National Reconnaissance Office pledged to deliver the nation's spy satellites on time and on budget after almost a decade of botched programs such as the Future Imagery Architecture.

NRO Director Bruce Carlson acknowledged "very costly and very significant  failures for the reconnaissance community" but said that was in the past and in the future he has "got to lead an organization that can demonstrate effectiveness."

[The photo is from Carlson's Air Force days as he no longer wears a uniform as head of the NRO.]

Carlson, speaking before more than 700 intelligence practitioners and contractors industry at the annual intelligence conference known as Geoint, said the agency is  now on track, he told the audience of more than 700 intelligence practitioners and contractors.

"If you look at our performance over the last 18 months... [the NRO's programs are on budget] plus or minus 5 percent, which is remarkable in the kind of business we are in. We are going to turn the corner and we are going to deliver on time and on cost," he pledged.

Carlson also said the NRO would launch a classified system sometime in the next 15 to 18 months and might have to take the rare action of bumping a commercial satellite from the launch schedule to do it. An informed source confirmed the satellite is part of the cancelled but unfinished Future Imagery Architecture program.

"We are going to launch those vehicles. We are going to put them in orbit and they are going to do what we built them to do," he said. Carlson abandoned the 22-pages of prepared remarks his staff had prepared at the beginning of his appearance and all his comments were delivered impromptu.

He offered remarkably candid comments slamming the launch capabilities of the United States, clearly aimed at industry officials in the audience. "So don’t screw that up and don’t get in the way," he told them after saying the satellite would launch as close to schedule as possible. "The business of launch in this country is not very good.... We've forgotten how to build the equipment that gets what we build into orbit."

On the budget front, Carlson said he would strive mightily to get more money for his science and technology for next year when he meets next week with Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence. But he did not sound encouraged. "The pressure on the budget in FY 11 is as s difficult and tough as I have ever seen it."

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