Congressional leader seeks to re-route Air Force national security space launch program
It has been a little more than a month since several members of Alabama’s congressional delegation received a commitment from the Air Force to proceed with the national security space launch program.
Now a high-ranking member of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives may make an end run through the committee process to alter the program which the Air Force and other members of Congress have dubbed as critical to the nation’s national security.
Space News reported Monday that Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, is proposing to alter the plan through revisions to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
The changes contained in the chairman’s mark will be taken up by the committee and voted on Wednesday.
The type of changes sought by Smith would likely have a negative impact on Alabama’s aerospace industry, which has been heavily involved in the Air Force’s national security space launch program.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal and numerous manufacturers and suppliers located in the Yellowhammer State have taken on an elevated role in the effort.
An industry source has previously noted that maintaining the planned path helps solidify the state’s position even further because of the amount of investments that members of its own industry have already made in the program.
The program, called Launch Services Agreement (LSA), awarded three companies the opportunity to develop launch vehicles for use in national security space missions under public-private partnerships.
News of the award to carry national security payloads brought praise from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and others.
The companies entered into LSA with the understanding that certain performance requirements were necessary to participate in a second phase of the program where the Air Force would only call on the top two providers.
As a result, companies became incentivized to make substantial investments for the opportunity to participate in the second phase.
Not proceeding as planned has some in the industry concerned that companies who fell behind, or were not willing to invest the necessary resources, could end up getting rewarded.
Yellowhammer News has received a copy of an Air Force memo outlining reasons why it opposes any changes to the process. Its chief concerns being that changes would not reward competition and would fail to meet national security needs.
Three members of Alabama’s congressional delegation sit on the House Armed Services Committee: Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Saks), Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News