Space Force budget outlines bridge strategy for missile warning and tracking architecture

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — U.S. Space Force leaders say the missile warning and tracking architecture supported in the service’s fiscal year 2023 budget request is a “transition strategy” — a way to maintain existing programs in a critical mission area as new capabilities are developed.

The service introduced that strategy in late March, asking for $3.4 billion — about $1 billion more than Congress appropriated in fiscal year 2022 — to maintain the infrared system’s satellites and ground segment. next-generation persistent on the right track. The request also proposed an additional $1.2 billion to continue developing systems to track hypersonic missiles from low and medium Earth orbits and ensure associated ground capabilities are aligned with satellite work. .

Speaking to reporters earlier this month at the Space Symposium, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said the plan is designed to give the service the stability of traditional OPIR capabilities as well as launch and test flexibility. new systems within a more diversified architecture.

“It’s not like the architectures we have today that are one-off, handmade, expensive, hard-to-defend wooden shoes that last a very long time,” Raymond said. “I think it would be fair to say that we don’t have the luxury of going out into the world and saying we’re going to disable all of these abilities and come back in a few years with a bunch of new abilities. You have to have a transition strategy.

Kendall added that as the threat matures and Space Force rethinks its tactical response to those threats, “I think we’re going to have to make some changes going forward.” But for now, he said, the service needs funding to modernize today’s systems and experiment with the future at the same time.

Col. Brian Denaro, director of the space sensing program at Space Systems Command, told C4ISRNET in an interview that an approach is needed to ensure there are no capability gaps during the transition to a more resilient architecture.

“As we work on this over the next year, year and more, we will continue to assess our path forward,” he said. “Right now what’s being funded in the budget is what we think is the smartest, most risk-informed way to make sure we’re securing that capability.”

The short-term parts of this “pathway” were established last fall through the Space Force’s Space Warfighting Analysis Center, which brought together SSC, the Space Development Agency, and the Missile Defense Agency. to design a future architecture. The service briefed him on the industry in November and, according to Denaro, immediately began working with the requirements community “in earnest.”

The Space Force Program Integration Board – which includes officials from SSC, National Reconnaissance Office, MDA, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and Space RCO – then reviewed these requirements and recommended architecture to the space acquisition board earlier this year. As part of that recommendation, Denaro said, SSC recommended the creation of a combined program office to execute the requirements.

The board approved the new program office, which includes SSC, SDA and MDA. Denaro said the group has already held its first summit and is in the process of working out a memorandum of understanding that will “codify and solidify the arrangement.”

“What we’re looking to do is deeply integrate these teams so that there’s no daylight between us,” he said. “And that will involve exchanging staff to ensure that we have SDA people embedded in our organization and vice versa at SDA and with MDA.”

Denaro said organizational integration is especially important for the ground segment. The Space Force is currently developing the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution, FORGE, system to provide command and control and mission processing for next-generation OPIR satellites, but the plan is for the system to provide centralized function for all of architecture. .

“It’s going to require very tight ground integration to allow us to make sure we meet those deadlines,” he said. “That’s why we work really closely with SDA and MDA, and that’s what led us to this organizational build to build a combined program office because of the timelines that we know are needed. All of this new data coming in needs to be correlated and needs to be distributed in a very quick timeframe.

Raytheon won a $197 million contract in early 2020 to develop FORGE.

For the LEO portion of the architecture, which is largely the purview of the Space Development Agency, next year is all about preparing for its first tracking layer launch, scheduled for 2023. This Tranche 0 mission includes eight -view satellites – four built by L3Harris and four by SpaceX.

SDA plans to award contracts for its Tranche 1 tracking layer in June, which will include at least 28 satellites slated for launch in 2025. The agency’s plan is to launch new capabilities every two years, repopulating the constellation with new technologies.

The Missile Defense Agency’s Hypersonic Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor Program is also part of the LEO architecture, which will consist of more sensitive medium-field-of-view sensors that can create targeting data for a missile intercept. L3Harris and Northrop Grumman are under contract to develop prototypes for HBTSS and the two companies completed critical design reviews for their satellites last year.

The HBTSS satellites are slated for launch in 2023, and Northrop Grumman recently told C4ISRNET that it would be ready to ship its satellite in the first quarter of this calendar year.

SPC is leading MEO’s efforts, which are currently closely tied to the results of an ongoing missile trail guard prototype program. Space Force in 2021 chose Raytheon and Millennium Space Systems to design digital models of infrared sensors to help the service determine their effectiveness in detecting and tracking missiles.

Denaro said SSC is finalizing its strategy for the MEO Constellation and hopes to have it completed by the end of this year. Right now, the idea is to model its MEO delivery cadence on SDA’s LEO plan – rolling out ‘epochs’ instead of ‘slices’ at a regular rate.

“We’re going to learn from each iteration, and then re-evaluate, ‘How does the architecture work? Do we have the expected performance? How does it perform compared to other layers,” he said.

Denaro said he expects Raytheon and Millennium to complete their critical design reviews for digital prototypes next year, noting that the service hasn’t determined whether it will field designs for more than 10 years. a supplier.

In GEO and Polar orbits, SSC will continue to oversee the Next Generation Airborne Persistent Infrared program, which includes three GEO satellites built by Lockheed-Martin and two Polar satellites built by Northrop. Lockheed’s first GEO satellite will launch in 2025 and Northrop’s first polar satellite in 2027, although company officials have said that date could be accelerated.

These first five satellites constitute block 0 of the Next-Gen OPIR program, the successor to the current space infrared system. Prior to SWAC’s force design work last year, Space Force had planned to build the architecture as part of a second development block. Asked if the service is planning any future phases of the program, Denaro said, “I can’t speak to any blocks beyond Block 0 at this point.”

“We are continuing to build the next-generation OPIR block 0, and we will continue to put it in place within the timeframe required to get it into orbit,” he said. “It’s a fundamental element of missile warning for this whole architecture, and it’s that unblinking eye that will provide 24/7 missile warning anywhere in the world.”

The service also plans to launch a wide-field-of-view demonstration satellite to GEO, which was originally intended to inform the future Next-Gen OPIR architecture. The WFOV Testbed satellite was built by Millennium and its advanced missile warning sensor was developed by L3Harris. The satellite was supposed to be launched this spring but was delayed. The Space Force hasn’t explained why the mission is on hold, but Denaro said the service is eager to have the satellite in orbit.

“Not only will we be able to explore with the new technology and the new focal plane, but also new algorithms and processes to evaluate the data, to decipher the data,” he said. “And it will allow us to not only look at missile warning, but also missile tracking capabilities and assess how that can be applied to proliferated LEOs and MEOs.”

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