The Defense Department should invest more research-and-development funds toward efforts to eventually field a space-based early warning sensor layer in lower orbits, the U.S. military’s number-two general said Jan. 17.

Speaking for the first time publicly in his role as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. John Hyten argued for more dollars to go toward testing new capabilities to help detect and defend against potential hypersonic missile strikes.

“From my perspective, I would like to see research-and-development [funds] into low-Earth-orbit as well as medium-Earth-orbit to figure out what the right mix of capabilities … in order to see” hypersonic missiles,” Hyten said Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “That’s the only way to get a global capability that is affordable to actually deter that threat.”

He noted that while ground-based radars are probably the most effective at detecting a hypersonic missile strike, the United States has neither the funds nor the space for the number of radars it would be. The U.S. military already has space-based capabilities placed in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) to detect ballistic missile threats, he added. “But if you want to see a dim target [such as a hypersonic missile], you actually have to get closer.”

Developing such a space-based sensor layer in LEO or MEO is a priority for the department, but Hyten said he was “a little frustrated” by the sluggishness of the Pentagon bureaucracy process.

He noted that between 2007 and 2014, he participated in seven yearly studies intended to determine the follow-on to the Air Force’s space-based infrared system (SBIRS) early warning satellite program, where each summer, officials involved would decide to defer the program for another year in favor of more studies.

“That’s what we’re doing with a space sensor layer: We’re studying the heck out of it when actually we need to do it,” Hyten said.

“Put the sensors on satellites, fly them cheap, fly them fast and see what they can do and then figure out what you actually need to build,” he continued, adding that in this situation, a “50 percent solution” would be enough to start making some decisions. “The basics are known issues, allow [the Office of the Undersecretary of Research and Engineering] to go explore that, and literally a couple of years from now we’ll have enough information” to build a solution.