This month, the Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) is to finish a force design for future ground moving target indication (GMTI) to help guide U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and other officials for next year’s fiscal 2024 budget submission, a U.S. Space Force official said on June 2.

“That GMTI force design is due to complete later this month,” Lt. Gen. William Liquori, the deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs, requirements, and analysis, told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies’ spacepower webinar.

That force design “will then feed into Secretary Kendall’s operational imperative on moving target indicator, which will ultimately inform our Space Force budget and the budget that the secretary provides to the Department of Defense,” Liquori said. “Then we’ll go through the Program Budget Review process, probably into the October/November time frame. Then we’ll engage with the [White House] Office of Management and Budget …Typically, we’re doing that in the December/January time frame so that the president’s budget can be delivered in February.”

The SWAC has been investigating that future force design as the center’s second priority force design (Defense Daily, Apr. 5). SWAC delivered its first force design on hypersonic missile warning and tracking–a proposed mix of low and medium Earth orbit satellites–in January.

The Department of the Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget indicates that the department plans to retire its 12 remaining Northrop Grumman [NOC] E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) GMTI planes–eight in fiscal 2023 and four in fiscal 2024–and to use other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to fill in for the loss of Joint STARS.

“The goal is not to have a [GMTI] gap,” Liquori said on June 2.

Other Air Force aircraft besides Joint STARS with GMTI include the U-2 with the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] ASARS-2 radars, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk with the Raytheon AN/ZPY-2 radar, and the RQ-170 Sentinel by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS)–the Department of the Air Force initiative under Pentagon Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2)–is to aid the integration of such sensor information for targeting.

In addition to Air Force GMTI, other services have some GMTI. For example, the U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton aircraft by Northrop Grumman has GMTI, while the U.S. Army De Havilland Canada (DHC) Airborne Reconnaissance Low aircraft have GMTI. In addition, Leidos [LDOS] has been working with the Army on possible GMTI on a modified Bombardier 650 business jet that Leidos owns.

Previous dedicated and related space-based GMTI efforts more than two decades ago, such as Discoverer II and the Future Imagery Architecture, floundered on technical shoals and cost estimates in the tens of billions of dollars. Liquori said on June 2 that “we believe that the technology readiness levels [for space-based GMTI] are to the point where we can absolutely do that.”

Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David ‘DT’ Thompson has been the Space Force’s point man on future GMTI, and the Department of the Air Force said that Space Force has been collaborating with the intelligence community, including the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), to prevent duplication of programs.

“Recognizing the anti-access, area denial threats that are out there and the difficulties of getting an air platform far enough into the conflict space, it seemed to only make sense to do some of that from space,” Liquori said on June 2. “Do I think space will be the only game in town? No. I think it will be a combination of assets to be able to do that…but there’s absolutely a role for space, and the trick for us in this force design, like with all of them, is we’ve got to be able to find a way to do this that meets the laws of physics in the domain, that does it in a resilient fashion, and we’ve got to be able to do it in a fashion that’s affordable to be able to do within our budget space that we have. That’s no easy task…There are still several steps to go before we get there, but we’re committed to do it because we know the importance of it.”

While DoD has pointed to China’s formidable air defenses as a deterrent to manned surveilance aircraft, large numbers of stealthy and non-stealthy surveillance drones may be another alternative for replacing Joint STARS.

A hybrid approach as posited by SWAC in its hypersonic missile warning and tracking force design may help reduce costs for future GMTI, Liquori said.

“I don’t want to presuppose the answers that will come out of the force design because Mr. [Andrew] Cox, [the director of SWAC], and team are still working…but what we learned from the missile warning and missile tracking force design is a hybrid approach was important there to ensure that we were resilient but also could do the mission, and we reiterate the value of commercial industry,” he said. “From my experience working in the national security space arena, if and when there’s a challenge put forward, nobody better than U.S. industry to come forward with creative ideas.”

“I would imagine most of the designs going forward will be a combination of government and commercial-type systems,” Liquori said. “We have a benefit in the exponential growth of our commercial space industry. It’s done a lot of things. It’s brought down the cost of space launch, which allows us to think about satellites and procuring satellites differently. It’s led to the ability to do proliferated architectures. I certainly think that will be a piece of what goes forward. The benefit that we have from our U.S. industry will be a contributing factor to us being able to do this in an affordable fashion, as well as doing that force design analysis. One of the lenses that they do all of the force designs and look through them is cost.”

Doug Birkey, the moderator of the June 2 webinar and the executive director of the Mitchell Institute, said that “if you look at the [GMTI] demand signal that the JSTARS crews have met over the last 20 years, we’ve flown those things into the ground.”

“The [GMTI] demand is overwhelming,” he said. “If you look at groups, like the Army, rushing to get those solutions, our perspective is it’s hugely important, plus we’re really worried about the battle management community. They have been run hard, and it’s just important to restore that very carefully.”