Space missile warning system to include MEO backup in case of attack: Tournear – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense
WASHINGTON: The missile warning and tracking “force design” developed by the Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) calls for satellites in medium Earth orbit (MEO) to provide backup to currently planned constellations, Derek Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency (SDA) said today.
While details of the SWAC plan remain classified, Tournear explained that the idea is that the MEO satellites will increase the resilience of the global missile warning/tracking architecture by augmenting the capability provided by the Next Generation Persistent Infrared Constellation. (Next Generation OPIR) in geosynchronous orbit. (GEO) and SDA’s own planned Low Earth Orbit (LEO) missile tracking satellites that are part of its planned seven-layer national defense space architecture.
“The SWAC study indicated that the future OPIR architecture for missile warning and tracking should be this kind of hybrid layer,” he told the Mitchell Institute’s Schriever Spacepower Forum. “We should have satellites that work at GEO, the Next-Gen OPIR GEO satellites; we should have the LEO proliferated to be able to give us the sensitivity that we need for hypersonic vehicle tracking and give us this full global coverage; and then we should also have MEO satellites to be able to add resiliency in case one or more layers are attacked.
Breaking Defense first reported that Space Force was considering MEO for a future set of next-generation OPIR satellites last July. At the time, a service executive said in an interview that 18-month contracts were signed in April and May with Raytheon, for $29 million, and Boeing’s Millennium Space, $28.1 million, to provide “prototypes”.
Data from all the various missile warning/tracking satellites would then be merged on the ground, Tournear said.
“It’s one of the things that [Space Systems Command] is responsible for: making sure that this systems-of-systems approach of tying all of these systems together in this common OPIR terrain can actually work, and then get that data out there,” he said.
He explained that as SDA’s Tracking Layer satellites mature every two years or so as part of the agency’s spiraling acquisition strategy, the idea is that they could eventually connect directly to birds. Next generation OPIR, with all data merged on board the agency. Transport Layer Data Relay Sats. But for the foreseeable future, that will not be the case.
“Ideally you would like to be able to have connectivity of all OPIR systems to the transport layer so they can be merged on board, but due to the fact that you know, Next-Gen OPIR…it’s a long development program,” he said. “We don’t want to mess with that by trying to add that connectivity to the transport layer at this point. We’re going to do it all over the floor.
The various missile warning and tracking satellites will all be connected downstream to a system called JOG, for Joint OPIR Ground, Tournear said. This system is currently used by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and SSC to collect missile warning data from legacy satellites and Space Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites and merge it into “three-dimensional traces” showing trajectories of enemy missiles.
“Once these tracks are merged, they are then broadcast typically over UHF networks or other Link 16 networks and then to weapons platforms,” he added. Space Force now plans to launch the sixth and final of the SBIRS satellites this year.
The first of the Next-Gen OPIR satellites is expected to be launched in 2025: one of three GEO satellites in the constellation being built by Lockheed Martin. Two satellites in elliptical orbit above the Earth’s poles, built by Northrop Grumman, will complete the constellation.
However, the development program – budgeted at $14.4 billion through 2025 – is facing criticism from the four congressional committees with oversight powers. Lawmakers in particular are upset by the lack of transparency in the highly classified effort and the Government Accountability Office’s warnings that it is slipping.
SDA’s first set of operational tracking layer satellites are also scheduled for launch in 2025, Tournear said. SDA intends to solicit proposals from industry for 28 “Tranche 1” tracking layers early this year, he added.
The tracking layer combines SDA’s new Wide Field of View Infrared Sensor and MDA’s new Medium Field of View Hypersonic and Ballistic Space Sensor (HBTSS) to track both traditional ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. more difficult to see in flight.
MDA awarded L3Harris a $121 million contract on January 14, 2021 and Northrop Grumman $155 million on January 22, 2021 to each develop a prototype medium-field-of-view sensor based on the satellite aimed specifically at keeping a eye on the fast and low flying hypersonic missiles.
Prior to that, however, SDA in October 2020 tapped L3Harris and SpaceX to build an initial set of tracking layer satellites designed to test new capabilities, as part of its “tranche 0” to demonstrate initial capability. SpaceX won $149 million and L3Harris $194 million to each build four satellites to detect ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles using a wide-field-of-view infrared sensor. These satellites should be launched this year.
Additionally, SDA hopes to issue a request for proposals for its Operations and Integration layer — “essentially the ground layer that connects all of our constellations,” he explained — as early as next week. An award is expected early this year, Tournear said.