The U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) is conducting a study of future air moving target indication (AMTI) and ground moving target indication (GMTI) against high technology adversaries, such as China and Russia. The study is meant to provide independent analysis and counsel to Air Force leaders of future AMTI and GMTI.

David Whelan chairs the panel on the MTI study, and Ryan Hersey is the vice chair. Whelan, a professor of engineering at the Universtiy of California at San Diego, served as the chief technologist of Boeing‘s [BA] defense unit from 2001 to 2017, as a member of the Defense Science Board from 2014 to 2020, and as a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1985 to 1988, per his LinkedIn biography. Whelan also previously served on the SAB from 2004 to 2008.

Hersey has been the director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s sensors and electromagnetic applications laboratory.

Air Force leaders have said that they need new AMTI and GMTI platforms to replace the Boeing E-3 AWACS and the Northrop Grumman [NOC] E-8 Joint STARS. The service has moved out on a buy of Boeing E-7A Wedgetails for AMTI and has been considering a mix of air and space assets for GMTI.

“Space-based radar and electro-optical sensors can generate imagery of stationary targets,” per an Air Force release on the study on the SAB website. “However, tracking moving targets from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) requires near-continuous target coverage and hence highly proliferated constellations (hundreds of satellites). In addition, a Space-Based Radar (SBR) able to detect slowly moving targets must have a long antenna which tends to make satellite cost high.”

“For these reasons, past efforts to develop MTI SBRs have not resulted in the deployment of an operational system,” the Air Force said. “However, current commercial efforts are driving down the cost of proliferated LEO satellite constellations with constellations comprised of thousands of satellites proposed and hundreds already launched. In addition, alternative sensing approaches and innovative concepts, at the individual satellite level and at the overall systems level, may help to drive down the cost of satellites.”

“Given these developments and the pressing need, the Department of the Air Force would benefit from an independent assessment of the feasibility of developing and deploying a system incorporating aircraft and satellites to provide surveillance and targeting of moving targets in HCEs,” per the Air Force.

The SAB is to brief Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in July on the study and to publish it in December.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) suggested this week that he is concerned that commercial 5G use of the S-band 3.1-3.45 GHz part of the electromagnetic spectrum may conflict with SBR, and that the intelligence community’s funding/ownership of SBR may hamper the fulfillment of SBR’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council-validated requirements for the support of military forces (Defense Daily, March 15).

In addition to SAB’s MTI report, the board is to submit studies this year on improving developmental and operational testing to field advanced technologies more quickly; improving base defense through such means as directed energy weapons and runway independent aircraft technologies; and alternative mobility strategies in a China scenario, including the use of Rocket Cargo, Blended Wing Body and electric/hybrid-powered aircraft, and autonomous refueling.