SatellitesSpace

The SASC is concerned that the Department of Defense’s missile warning satellite programs may be failing

The Senate Armed Services Committee is concerned about the interoperability and status of the Pentagon’s multiple attempts to expand missile warning satellites for numerous orbital altitudes, and lawmakers have demanded that the Department of Defense report on the programmes quarterly to the US Comptroller General. The reports, which will include schedule and cost overrun risk mitigation techniques, are intended to help the Government Accountability Office conduct “periodic evaluations” (GAO).

In its 2022 defence policy bill, the SASC raises concerns about how the satellites that make up the Space Force’s multibillion-dollar premier missile warning development programme, Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR), is going to be integrated with less expensive efforts by the Department of Defense’s the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Space Development Agency (SDA), and DARPA. The lawmakers are particularly concerned about the necessity for risk mitigation as the Department of Defense rushes to launch a slew of new missile alert sensors into orbit.

On the same day as a very scathing GAO report slamming the Space Force for deliberately giving Congress unduly optimistic cost and schedule projections for Next-Gen OPIR, the SASC form of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) got released.

In its July report accompanying its draught 2022 defence spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee slammed the Space Force for painting an overly rosy picture of the programme, noting that a study by the Department of Defense’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) came to the same conclusions.

Next-Gen OPIR is intended to replace the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) programme, which was initiated in the 1990s but was plagued by cost overruns and missed deadlines, with the last satellite in the constellation scheduled to fly only in 2022. The Space Force intends to spend roughly $14.4 billion on Next-Gen OPIR between now and 2025 and is employing Section 804 Middle Tier procurement authorities to expedite the programme.

In 2025, the Space Force aims to deploy the initial of five Next-Gen OPIR satellites, known as Block 0, into Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO, some 36,000 kilometres in altitude). Block 0 is the first generation of satellites, consisting of three geostationary satellites produced by Lockheed Martin and two polar spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman. Following the delivery of a prototype in 2023, the service aims to convert Next-Gen OPIR Block 0 to a key capability procurement pathway at the close of its 5-year Middle Tier acquisition window.

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