A complex $15 billion satellite system that was being developed by Northrop Grumman for the Pentagon, NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration was broken up by the White House in 2010, and the military part was later canceled.
Continued budget cuts could reduce the chances of a new program since weather forecasting needs are generally a lower priority than missile warning or secure communications.
“The option they keep looking at is, maybe we won't do anything,” Webster told Reuters in an interview, referring to Air Force and Pentagon officials.
“The weather satellites are a microcosm of the larger issue. There's interest and maybe a little intent on how to do things differently, but there certainly hasn't been a full commitment,” he said.
Exelis is working on two contracts to study different approaches to supplying the needed weather data, instead of building another large-scale weather satellite.
One proposal calls for the U.S. military to pay for imaging sensors that would be launched by Canada on telecommunications satellites flying over the earth's poles.
Webster said the Canadian satellite approach would save a lot of money, but still required investment from the U.S. military at a time when even relatively small programs in hundreds of millions of dollars are under extreme scrutiny.
Douglas Loverro, the Pentagon's point man for space policy, acknowledged that budget cuts could slow that kind of innovation. But they could also build momentum for change.
“I don't think it changes the ultimate strategy that we're pursuing,” Loverro told Reuters in a recent interview.
“In some ways, it provides an impetus to go ahead and get you there faster because you have to save money.” -Reuters