SBIRS Got Off on Wrong Foot

The Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, has been plagued with budgetary and developmental problems that trace their birth to the 1990s, says Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, head of Space and Missile Systems Center. Speaking with defense reporters in Washington on Tuesday morning, Hamel remarked that “there were an awful lot of genetic defects in the program from its inception”—a condition he attributes to the overall flattening of 1990s era defense budgets even as the demand for space assets was increasing. That atmosphere prompted the Air Force and DOD to become “buyers in the marketplace” instead of having an active role in the design and development program, Hamel said. “What happened was that the commercial markets didn’t materialize and as a result the benefits just didn’t occur and it turned out too many corners were cut,” he continued. Sensor system programs were shut down and critical expertise was lost in the face of a flat budget, contributing to the program’s current problems, Hamel asserted. Even so, he says he’s optimistic that the Air Force now has the “right program formula” for SBIRS when it comes to “engineering discipline and testing.”