The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) development of a classified space-based ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar for military commanders is to dovetail with National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) efforts, NRO Director Christopher Scolese said on July 20.
“With the radar area, we’re working very closely [with USSF] to make sure that what we’re doing is complementary,” Scolese told a Washington Space Business Roundtable forum.
The space-based GMTI radar has a funding line in the USSF budget request for research and development and is part of USSF’s total obligation authority, USSF said last month.
USSF Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said in May that Space Force is “building GMTI from space” by using “the full spectrum of options,” including trying “to leverage commercial more than we’ve done in the past” to drive competition (Defense Daily, May 12).
Space GMTI is to provide time critical targeting without putting airborne assets, namely the aging Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS aircraft, at risk.
In 1999, when Joint STARS achieved full operational capability for the Air Force, no space-borne GMTI satellite had flown, but since then, such a space-based GMTI capability has shown promise, including on a Canadian RADARSAT-2 experiment and the Chinese Gaofen-3 low Earth orbit remote sensing satellite.
The end users of USSF-provided satellite data are front-line military forces, while the president, intelligence community, and DoD typically use NRO geospatial intelligence and signals intelligence satellite data.
Last July, Raymond recalled that, when he headed Air Force Space Command–now part of USSF, he canceled a space situational awareness satellite because NRO was also building one and that NRO and AFSPC then partnered to deliver capability “to our nation faster and at a reduced cost” (Defense Daily, July 24, 2020).
“We coordinate very carefully [with USSF]…to make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts, but clearly as you get into the mission area, you want to make sure that there isn’t duplication, or, if there is, it’s complementary, or for a reason,” Scolese said on July 20. “At the R&D level, we do work together, but often times you want to pursue similar goals via different paths, and we’ll go off and work together to coordinate that.”
Scolese said on July 20 that commercial space capabilities in electro-optical, radar, and launch systems will provide resilience and lower costs.
“Commercial is coming on strong with lots and lots of capabilities,” he said. “It’s a very burgeoning market, and we are trying to take advantage of it. Commercial systems are a part of our current architecture and are a more important part of our future architecture. They’re providing capabilities that, in some cases, replace capabilities that the NRO has traditionally done. That allows us to focus in other areas where the challenge is greater, or there may be no commercial need for it, so it enhances our ability to address the national mission. It provides resiliency by having the capable systems up there that we don’t control but we can use, allows us to support the national infrastructure in ways that we couldn’t before by providing more global access in some cases, and commercial is developing caapbilities that we can utilize.”
Chinese and Russian hacks of U.S. computer systems have been in the limelight recently, and Scolese said that it’s a constant effort to ensure that the NRO space and ground segments are cybersecure.
“When it comes to the cyber world, one should never be comfortable because the threat is always changing,” he said. “Making sure that your systems are up-to-date is obviously part of it. Making sure that you have the best protection that you can provide in terms of, in our case, isolating those things that need to be isolated, and also being aware of what’s out there so that you can stay ahead of it. What are the trends, if you will, of our cyber actors? It takes a significant amount of resources to make sure that our systems stay safe and will continue to operate.”