The Air Force would receive an extra $75 million for a program set to build its future early warning missile detection satellites under the fiscal year 2020 defense spending bill winding its way through Congress.
The FY ‘20 national security minibus bill includes $1.47 billion in research-and-development funds for the next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) program, up from $1.39 billion requested in the presidential budget.
That would provide for the development of the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) ground system as well as a new prototype scheduled for launch in 2020, to be followed up a next-gen OPIR block 1 operational prototype to be potentially fielded in the 2026 timeframe, according to Air Force FY ’20 justification documents.
The next-gen OPIR program is the Air Force’s replacement for the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), both run by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The service announced this fall that the program had completed its system/ground and space vehicle preliminary design review (PDR) in September, which allowed the program to remain on track to deliver the initial satellite for launch by 2025 (Defense Daily, Oct. 11).
The FY ’20 appropriations bill’s report, released Dec. 16, states that appropriations conferees opted to retain language included in the Senate version of the bill designating Next-Gen OPIR as a “congressional special interest item” and directs Air Force leadership to continue providing quarterly reports to congressional defense committees on the program.
Lawmakers in the past have questioned the program’s intent and progress in the broad scheme of Pentagon space development efforts, and the report reflects that by requesting that the Secretary of Defense develop an “integrated overhead persistent infrared enterprise architecture strategy” within nine months of the bill’s enactment.
“The Department of Defense lacks consensus on its space architecture plans to meet requirements for strategic and tactical missile warning, missile defense, and battlespace awareness mission areas,” the report said, noting that multiple offices and departments, including the Air Force, Missile Defense Agency and Space Development Agency, each hold plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on new, separate satellite constellations, with a multitude of sensor types, constellation sizes and orbits.
Those plans have not been synchronized into a “clearly articulated, executable and affordable integrated enterprise space architecture,” appropriators noted.
“While the Air Force’s Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Block O is an important near-term step for the missile warning mission area, an enterprise architecture strategy is needed to inform decisions on plans, programs, and investments to address the spectrum of overhead persistent infrared mission areas” and avoid inefficiencies and overlap, they said. “The lack of an integrated strategy also risks missing opportunities to integrate sensors and capabilities to increase performance and improve survivability against increasing threats.”
The new strategy would help to define the Pentagon’s proposed reference architecture, acquisition strategy, identification of lead agency or service for each element, estimated cost, schedule of key milestones, and transition plans, the report said.
The Air Force in 2018 announced its intent to award a sole-source contract to Lockheed Martin Space to define requirements, create the initial design and identify and procure flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit. It awarded the not-to-exceed $2.9 billion contract for three Next-Gen OPIR satellites under Block 0 in August 2018 (Defense Daily, Aug. 14, 2018).
It awarded a second sole-source contract worth $47 million to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems [NOC] to analyze system and program requirements for the polar satellites.
Lockheed Martin then downselected Raytheon [RTN] and a Northrop Grumman-Ball Aerospace [BLL] team to compete to provide the Next-Gen OPIR mission payload, with a final provider to be selected in 2020 following critical design review (Defense Daily, Oct. 4, 2018).