The U.S. Space Force (USSF) has been discussing with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the intelligence community (IC) a space-based ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar that Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David “DT” Thompson said could be fielded in the “relatively near future.”

“In terms of space-based radar ground moving target indication, unfortunately I really can’t give you a whole lot of additional detail right now for several reasons, other than to say it is an active program that we are engaged in–both in force design-related activity, as to see what it should look like and what the inter-relationship is between what we should do and what the NRO and the IC should do, and really to make sure we’re doing the appropriate technology and other development activities that would lead to production and fielding of a capability sometime in the relatively near future,” Thompson told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’ Spacepower Forum on July 28.

USSF’s development of a classified space-based GMTI radar for military commanders is to dovetail with NRO efforts, NRO Director Christopher Scolese has said (Defense Daily, July 20).

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.

Asked on July 28 whether USSF has made progress with the IC on discussions about tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance responsibilities, given the concerns of congressional lawmakers, Thompson said that the IC and USSF collaborate to ensure synergy of effort and that “as you think about Joint All Domain Command and Control, the tremendous need for that networked sensor-to-shooter to decision-maker operating concept for the joint force that we’re moving in the direction of, it is going to be and must be data rich.”

“If you’re talking about anti-access, area denial, a large, large portion of that data has to come from space,” he said. “There’s plenty of room for the national security space enterprise to work those problems together.”

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.

Joint STARS has performed GMTI “for decades very well, but it can’t do it in denied airspace,” Thompson said on July 28. “It can’t do it over China and Russia every single day in peacetime, and so that mission moves to space…We’re looking at what it takes to move that mission to space, and we’re looking closely with the intelligence community, and primarily the NRO, on what are the ways to do it, how do we do it collaboratively together, do we field a capability [or] do we leverage their capability. We’re looking at all of those options to be able to provide that data and that capability effectively. I would say, in terms of the oversight required by Congress and others, ‘Bring it on.’ It’s incumbent on us to show how we’re working with the NRO and the intelligence community to provide that capability for the nation, and we’ll sort out together how to do it effectively, not be duplicative, and not end up with stovepiped capabilities that don’t mesh, that don’t inter-operate.”

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.