Over the next year, the U.S. Space Force (USSF) Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) is to examine shortfalls in space domain awareness and how to remedy them, a top USSF official said on Apr. 2.
Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, USSF’s director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Aerospace Nation forum that building space situational awareness is a priority and “the capability to look at adversary systems and to be able to characterize those adversary systems.”
The SWAC, laid out in planning guidance by USSF Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond last November, is “really where we will be able to get after the force design, what do we want an ISR enterprise to look like from a capability perspective, whether that’s on-orbit or not,” Lauderback said on Apr. 2. “Absolutely, that needs to include anything that is flown today by NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], as an example, but also what is commercially flown, also what is terrestrially-owned. Industry is coming up with some great ideas to be able to get after the persistence that we need as well as the fidelity of sensors.”
“I can’t say that we have made a lot of strides in this, but…six months or a year from now, I think that we’ll be in a much better place to understand everything that is out there, what are those gaps, what are those requirements, and then let’s go toward building that game plan to get to building those capabilities,” she said.
In January, the USSF became the 18th member of the intelligence community with Lauderback, who has served as director of USSF ISR since last August.
Raymond’s planning guidance last November for USSF laid out the goals for SWAC.
“To ensure our force design offers the Joint Force assured effects, the SWAC will analyze opportunities to enhance the resilience of legacy systems as an interim step to fielding a force designed to operate in a warfighting domain,” per the guidance. “The SWAC will develop future force structures that meet evolving mission requirements, are resilient to the threat, and are cost informed. The SWAC will execute service wargaming functions that help to formulate these architectures, as well as understand their interplay between USSF and the Joint Force.”
USSF is looking beyond its ground-based Space Fence radar and on-orbit systems to improve significantly the real-time tracking of objects in space.
USSF and the NRO have been working on a SILENTBARKER program to field space-based sensors to improve the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN), including four Northrop Grumman [NOC] Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites, launched between 2014 and 2016.
The next two GSSAPs are to launch this August for USSF-8 aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V. ULA is a partnership between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT].
The primary ground-based space tracking system is to be the $1.6 billion Space Fence radar system by Lockheed Martin. Located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the solid-state S-band radar system achieved initial operational capability on March 27 last year.
USSF has said that “the Space Fence radar performs well and meets the requirements for which it was designed,” yet the service said that “the Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission is becoming more complex and challenging as the environment evolves” and that increased congestion, contention, and competition in space drive the need for faster revisit rates, higher capacity requirements, increased sensitivity, and increased resilience the Space Fence radar cannot provide alone” (Defense Daily, March 16).
A space-based tracking system of commercial, optical sensor satellites could help provide near-synoptic, simultaneous coverage of all orbits. Better space situational awareness may provide insights on the intent of potential U.S. adversaries in space and may help deter such adversaries.
“Surveillance from space augments and overcomes existing ground sensor limitations with timely 24-hour above-the-weather collection of satellite metric data only possible with a space-based sensor and then communicates its findings to the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), National Space Defense Center, and other classified users,” according to U.S. Air Force budget documents.
To meet USSF’s requirement for faster revisit rates, higher capacity requirements, increased sensitivity, and increased resilience, the service said that it “is acquiring new sensors, and increasing the capability of existing sensors, while laying the foundation to exploit data for foundational SDA activities.”
“Future SDA sensors include SILENTBARKER and Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC),” per USSF. “The Ground-Based Optical Sensor System (GBOSS) effort is an upgrade to the existing Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system. SDA is an inherently data-centric problem requiring both access to data and the ability to exploit data. The USSF intends to collaborate with commercial and coalition partners in order to expand access to SDA data.”
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has been working on DARC, and a subsequent contract may come this summer. Pentagon budget plans have called for more than $141 million for DARC in fiscal 2022 and more than $200 million through 2025.
A ground based sensor, DARC is to provide better tracking of foreign and domestic deep space objects in GEO.
Last September, L3Harris Technologies [LHX] received a $119.2 million contract for upgrades and procurement of 15 GEODSS sensor towers, building ground-based optical sensors in the Pacific and European regions and providing additional enclosure for the system installed at White Sands Missile Range. DoD budget plans have called for nearly $52 million for GBOSS in fiscal 2022.
“The challenge to developing and deploying SDA sensors is ensuring the appropriate balance of affordability and performance to meet requirements,” per Space Force. “The space domain is more than 400 times larger than the combination of air, land, and sea domains; no single sensor is able to fully service all orbital regimes or any single orbital regime fully.”
By 2025, Russia and China will have anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities that will threaten satellites in all orbital regimes, Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of staff for USSF, said last month. (Defense Daily, March 11).