The United States must consider an alternative approach to buying a highly sophisticated, multi-billion eye in the sky spy satellite, the vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee said this morning.
"I think it's a major issue," Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland told reporters this morning. He said he is working with DNI Jim Clapper on the best approach to providing troops and the White House with the best mix of capabilities. While he did not explicitly support going with an alternative technology approach, he made it clear he supported much more exploration of technologies believed to be less expensive.
I asked him if he would support building more satellites that can be deployed in greater numbers and at less cost than has been estimated for the new system, being built by Lockheed Martin. He expressed interest in this but did not commit to a new course, though he did say it was promising. One reason for the new scrutiny is cost. "The costs," Ruppersberger said, "have to be brought down."
Also, he twice expressed concern that the Russian and Chinese may already know the capabilities of the new system, which is believed to be substantially similar to the best existing spy satellites. "Have the Chinese compromised it,” he asked rhetorically at one point.
The National Reconnaissance Office will manage acquisition of the system and operate the new constellation. Lockheed Martin will build the systems. They will be roughly similar in capabilities to the existing spy satellite constellation. The new satellites are expected to launch within the next decade.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has harbored serious doubts about the White House approach to this satellite program for some time, as Buzz readers know.
“We have extraordinarily serious concerns involving the waste of many, many dollars over a period of years and are rather determined it not happen again,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein in 2009. Feinstein said she and Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican who shares the same committee assignments, shares her concerns about the EO system. “We also have information that the lesser tier can also be as capable and have a stealth capability,” Feinstein said.