The Air Force's FAB-T system will work in conjunction with Lockheed Martin's AEHF satellite constellation, as seen in this rendering. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — The Air Force has decided to limit the scope of its Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T) deployments, a direct result of Pentagon-wide budget cuts.
The move, confirmed by the two industry competitors for the program, means the service will only procure 84 command post terminals, dropping an additional 132 airborne terminals that could have been mounted on America’s fleet of B-2, B-52 and RC-135 aircraft.
FAB-T will provide the nation’s leaders with secure command and control communications, even in the event of a nuclear war. The terminals are designed to work with the service’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, network of secure satellites.
Raytheon and Boeing are the two competitors for the program, which is expected to select a winner by the end of March.
“The Air Force recently made a decision to only award production for the command post terminals,” Scott Whatmough. VP of integrated communication systems at Raytheon, said on a Jan. 22 conference call. “There had been potential for both command post and airborne wideband terminals, but due to the budgeting process for 2015, money was not allocated for those terminals.”
Boeing initially won the right to produce the FAB-T system a decade ago, but after years of delays, in the Air Force brought Raytheon back in to develop an alternative system in 2012.
The program took a small cut in the 2014 omnibus bill passed by Congress last week. Appropriators took out $10 million from the military satcom budget line, as well as another $6 million for FAB-T from the E-6 Mercury budget line. What the budget might look like in future years is unclear, but Whatmough sees support for the program to continue.
The Air Force is “very careful not to talk about confidence levels,” Whatmough said. “We monitor the budgets very closely. Everything we can tell there is still a very strong support for this capability, especially for the command post, and I think that’s born itself out in what they’ve asked for in production.”
And while he said he has “no insight” into whether the Air Force is likely to add the airborne terminals back into the budget in future years, Whatmough said he doesn’t expect the need for bomber terminals has gone away.
“I don’t think the need is going away for the bombers, I think they probably have a little more time flexibility for when they need this capability in the bombers,” he said. “My sense is this still has very strong support.”
The competition at Boeing echoed those statements.
“We understand the full FAB-T capability suite is a high national priority. We don’t want to speculate about specifics in future years’ budgets but we do know that the FY14 budget has identified funding in FY15 and beyond,” Richard Esposito, Boeing spokesman, wrote in an email. “We anticipate that the customer will want to procure the bomber terminals at a later date. The warfighting requirements still remain.”
Esposito added that the decision to move forward with only part of the FAB-T program at this time will have “no impact” on Boeing’s offering.