The U.S. Space Force (USSF) expects to complete an analysis of alternatives (AoA) of space-based ground moving target indication (GMTI) late this spring–an effort that the service has undertaken with the intelligence community and the Pentagon Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE).

“Our goal is by late spring of this year we will deliver an AoA that will determine how best to go about accomplishing this critical [GMTI] mission,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Spacepower forum on Jan. 18.

The AoA is expected to inform the DoD budget for GMTI in fiscal 2024.

The goal of space-based GMTI is to provide prompt targeting without putting airborne assets, namely the aging Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS aircraft, at risk.

Raymond has said that Space Force wants to use “the full spectrum of options” for space-based GMTI, including trying “to leverage commercial more than we’ve done in the past” to drive competition (Defense Daily, May 12, 2021).

The U.S. Air Force began the space-based GMTI radar effort but transferred it to USSF after that service’s establishment in December 2019. The radar has a funding line in the USSF budget request for research and development and is part of USSF’s total obligation authority.

“The [GMTI] mission is critical,” Raymond said on Jan. 18. “We don’t want to spend a dollar wasted on doing something that we don’t have to, if somebody is already doing it. We’ve done that before, for example with some space based situational awareness capabilities. We were going to build capabilities back in 2016–a follow-on to a space surveillance satellite, and I ended up killing it because the NRO had a program that was going to meet our needs so we partnered with them.”

The fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act would preclude DoD from obligating funds for air-and space-based GMTI until the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff submits to Congress a list of all procurement and research and development efforts related to GMTI; a description of how the GMTI efforts will provide “real-time information to relevant military end users through the use of air battle managers;” proof that the programs will comply with joint all domain command and control requirements and Joint Requirements Oversight
Council (JROC)-validated GMTI requirements; and identification of potential GMTI redundancies.

The space-based GMTI AoA will be the first USSF product to address Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s priority to improve tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

Kendall has “asked us to take a hard look at tactical level ISR, and if you look at the joint force requirements responsibilities that we were given by the JROC, the very first thing we’re doing is trying to reach out to all the other services and in doing this in partnership with the intelligence community, get our arms around what are the department’s tactical-level ISR, warfighting/targeting requirements and pull those together, and working with the intelligence community figure out the best way going forward on meeting those requirements.”

The U.S. has initiated space-based GMTI efforts before–efforts that entailed cost estimates in the tens of billions of dollars for an operational system. In 1998, the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the NRO began the Discoverer II program to explore high-resolution space-based GMTI, but Congress canceled the program in 2000.

In 2004, the Air Force awarded a Lockheed Martin [LMT] team a contract for Space Radar, but the Pentagon killed the program in 2008 as being too costly.

A 2007 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the cost of a space-based GMTI radar system as ranging from nearly $26 billion to more than $94 billion.