The U.S. Space Force (USSF) is undertaking a space-based ground moving target indicator (GMTI) program and looking to move into tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions that complement intelligence community efforts, but the new USSF focus areas are not to conflict with the mission of the Space Development Agency (SDA) to build satellites enabling beyond line of sight targeting of mobile missiles, according to officials’ remarks on May 12 at the McAleese Associates’ FY2022 Defense Programs Conference.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond laid out a tactical ISR mission for response to a question on how USSF supports joint forces from Jamie Morin, the executive director of Aerospace Corp.’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy and a former director of the Pentagon’s office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE),

“Historically, the ISR business has not been something that Air Force Space Command or the Space Force now has done,” Raymond said. “That’s largely been an intelligence community effort. I really believe as satellites and technology is getting smaller, as smaller satellites are becoming more operationally relevant, and as launch costs come down, there is a role for the Space Force in tactical level ISR. We’re working with the intelligence community to do this in a way that’s complementary that does not compete with it. But I really believe this is an area that we’ll begin to migrate to because we can do it, and we can do it in a way that does not break the bank and is focused on our joint and coalition partners.”

Another new area for USSF is space GMTI to provide such targeting without putting airborne assets, namely the aging Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS aircraft, at risk. USSF “has a program we’re building–GMTI from space,” Raymond said. “We’re going to do that [using] the full spectrum of options and try to leverage commercial more than we’ve done in the past..and drive competition.”

Raymond said that the USSF space GMTI mission “is something that I’d keep an eye on,” when asked what programs to watch, concerning the new space GMTI and tactical ISR missions.

The new USSF mission areas will not conflict with the Space Development Agency (SDA) effort to field a National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA), SDA Director Derek Tournear told the McAleese conference.

The backbone of NDSA, the Transport Layer, is to provide the targeting of ground and maritime targets, while the Tracking Layer–the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Reconnaissance (Next-Gen OPIR) constellation–is to establish effective targeting of advanced missiles. In addition, SDA is working to aid future ISR satellites in the Custody Layer to fuse ISR tracking with the Transport Layer to devise the best targeting solution.

For the Custody Layer, SDA “does not have plans to build out any of the sensing satellites,” Tournear said. “We’re working with mission partners that are building out those sensing satellites that would tie the data in, and we would do the data fusion and send it to the weapons. What Gen. Raymond is talking about is exactly that same model, and we share that vision that the department as a whole needs to have a tactical ISR capability.”

“What we need to have as a department is to make sure we have an assured means to provide that for true ‘tac’ targeting that we can rely on in times of war,” he said. “Right now, there is not a defined plan on who in the department would build out those satellites. There’s not even a defined plan on what that overall constellation would look like. There’s a lot of debates on that internal [to DoD]. Gen. Raymond and I have that conversation a lot about the pros and cons of different modalities, the pros and cons of different constellation sizes, but the vision is the same. Someone within the department should build out a layer that provides tactical ISR that we can rely on in times of war. We will still want to rely on commercial and other government mission partners to be able to provide data to supplement that, but we want the department to own a tactical ISR layer.”

Tournear said that “from Gen. Raymond’s perspective, and this is a growing view within the department, tactical space is an extension of the capabilities that UAVs provide.”

“While I can’t point to a specific decision paper that’s been signed out, I would say that that’s certainly a growing consensus, that we need to start viewing space more as we view UAVs and expect them [space systems] to be tactically responsive,” he said.

SDA is to field 150 small size, weight and power laser communications satellites in Tranche 1 of the Transport Layer by September 2024 and is to field additional tranches every two years. Such mesh network satellites are to provide the rapid targeting of ground and maritime targets to military forces over Link 16. The optically-connected satellites will also supply position, navigation and timing to U.S. and allied forces in GPS-denied environments.

Last August, SDA awarded $281.5 million in firm, fixed-price contracts to Lockheed Martin [LMT] and York Space Systems to build 10 satellites each for Tranche O of the Transport Layer (Defense Daily, Sep. 1, 2020).