While the U.S. Space Force (USSF) has a number of modernization priorities, including the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning system and the Space Based Radar for ground moving target indication, it appears that the service may examine small satellites–possibly commercial ones–to help the U.S. detect the counterspace wherewithal and actions of potential adversaries.
Improving space domain awarness has been a stated goal of Space Force leaders, including Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.
“When I was at U.S. Space Command, I felt like what we needed was a persistent [monitor], like a Predator in space,” Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, the director of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, told a DefenseOne virtual forum on March 24. “I need something that’s probably orbiting or sitting really close to whatever that counterspace capability might be so that I can watch it consistently.”
Before assuming her current job in August 2020, Lauderback served as the director of intelligence at U.S. Space Command at Schriever Space Force Base, Colo., from July 2019 to July 2020.
“Maybe it’s 15 small satellites that we can use to give us that persistent look, as well as more high fidelity sensors that we need to really attribute who just did this [counterspace action],” she said. Commercial companies, such as SpaceX, are building and fielding low Earth orbit satellites rapidly–a feature that helps drive down satellite cost and one that USSF may look to take advantage of, Lauderback said.
Over the last year, the USSF Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) has been discussing an examination of shortfalls in space domain awareness and how to remedy them (Defense Daily, Apr. 2, 2021)..
In November 2020 planning guidance, Raymond laid out the force design goals of the SWAC.
Space domain awareness force design will likely be a mix of ground-based radars and commercial, National Reconnaissance Office, and USSF satellites, including Northrop Grumman [NOC] Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites, SILENTBARKER, the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability and the Lockheed Martin $1.6 billion Space Fence radar on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
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.