(Adds Lockheed comment, byline)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, June 2 Lockheed Martin Corp
on Monday beat out Raytheon Co to win a $915 million
contract from the U.S. Air Force for a ground-based radar that
will track about 200,000 pieces of old satellites and other
objects in space.
The Pentagon announced the fixed-price contract for the new
"Space Fence," which includes an incentive fee, late on Monday
in its daily digest of major contract awards.
The deal covers development and construction of the new
radar on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 2,100
miles (3,400 km) southwest of Honolulu, with initial operations
to start in late 2018.
The deal also includes an option for a second site in
western Australia, said Steve Bruce, vice president for advanced
systems at Lockheed's Mission Systems and Training Business.
Bruce, speaking with reporters, declined to estimate the
total value of the contract, including that option and others,
but analysts said it would be worth just under $2 billion.
U.S. officials have underscored the importance of the Space
Fence program given the growing number of countries operating
satellites in space, China's work on anti-satellite weapons, and
the huge amount of debris in orbit around the earth.
The program will increase the U.S. government's ability to
track spent rocket boosters, dead satellites and other "space
junk" that could damage satellites or the International Space
Station, Bruce said.
The Air Force now tracks about 23,000 of an estimated
500,000 objects orbiting the earth, but the new radar will
increase that number tenfold.
Brian Weeden, a former Air Force analyst who now works with
the Secure World Foundation, said the new system still faced
challenges, including the need for new computers to process the
larger amount of data that will be collected. "There's a lot
that can still go wrong," he said.
Raytheon said it had been notified about the Air Force's
decision, but that it would be inappropriate to comment further
until after it receives a post-decision debrief from Air Force
officials. A company spokesman declined comment on whether it
would protest the decision.
Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for
space policy, told Reuters last month that the Air Force cut the
projected cost of the new radar system by two-thirds by
mandating prototypes and manufacturing demonstrations.
Bruce said the Air Force scaled back its requirements as a
result of studies conducted by Lockheed and other companies in
the early stages of the procurement process, ultimately deciding
to use space-based assets to track debris in higher orbits.
"The Air Force did a terrific job of looking at these
requirements and coming up with something that's affordable," he
Bruce declined to provide Lockheed's expected profit on the
deal, or other details of the contract terms, but said the
fixed-price deal was unusual for a development project.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli,
Matthew Lewis and Mohammad Zargham)