New Missile-Warning Satellites Must Be Easier To Defend Than Current Ones, General Says

The U.S. Air Force should make its next generation of missile-warning satellites easier to defend than the existing spacecraft due to growing threats from potential enemies, according to the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM).

The current Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile-warning satellites “are not easy to defend, and that is a significant problem in itself,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten said. Successor satellites “can’t be a target that is easy for an adversary to get after.”

Lockheed Martin employees encapsulate the Air Force's SBIRS GEO 3 satellite before its launch. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin employees encapsulate the Air Force's SBIRS GEO 3 satellite before its launch. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Hyten, who spoke Dec. 2 at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, said that recent advances in sensor miniaturization should free up room on the new satellites so they can carry more fuel to quickly dodge attacks.

To speed up an acquisition process he has often criticized as too slow, Hyten said the new satellites should be “basically a commercial bus that we can buy from everybody,” and they should be compatible with the existing ground system so a new one does not have to be developed.

While the Air Force will be responsible for building the new satellites, Hyten pledged to “watch the requirements closely.”

The Air Force has launched three SBIRS geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) satellites and plans to launch a fourth in January. Two more, GEO-5 and GEO-6, are in production. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor.

On Nov. 14, the Air Force issued a request for information on industry capabilities that could support a SBIRS follow-on, saying its Space and Missile Systems Center has “an unusual and compelling urgency” for new satellites that can “counter emerging threats while operating in a contested environment.”

Due to Lockheed Martin's unique expertise, the Air Force said it might forego a competition and award the company a contract to build the initial block of new satellites. But the service added that it plans to hold a competition for the next block.

In other comments, Hyten said that Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command, has formally assumed the additional role of STRATCOM’s joint component commander for space, giving him operational control of joint space forces. The assignment is part of a STRATCOM reorganization that Hyten announced in July to consolidate 18 component commands into four (Defense Daily, July 26).

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