Space Force Advances Global Missile Warning
The U.S. Space Force plans to advance its missile tracking and warning capabilities starting with a new organization. The Resilient Missile Warning, Tracking, Defense Acquisition Delta with the Space Sensing Directorate of Space Systems Command (SSC), Los Angeles Air Force Base, California—which will achieve full operating capacity this summer—is pioneering several missile warning and tracking solutions that will expand regional warning to a broader scale, according to Col. Heather Bogstie, USSF, the Delta’s senior materiel leader. Col. Bogstie presented the efforts and goals of the Delta to AFCEA’s Los Angeles Chapter in January and, more recently, provided updated information.
“Missile warning is a key component of deterrence, which is very important because it shows our adversaries that we mean business and that we can appropriately respond to any kind of threats that are coming at the United States,” Col. Bogstie stated. “Our adversaries are building capabilities that show us our orbital regimes are being contested. To defeat that, we need to look at the way in which we are doing business and see what kind of changes we need to make to our operating systems and the way that we’re fielding these systems. We are looking to field these systems in two- to three-year increments.”
To better track different types of adversarial capabilities, the Space Force is pivoting to have missile warning solutions in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and medium-Earth orbit (MEO)—including the new $2 billion MEO missile tracking constellation that she and her team are managing. Col. Bogstie is also overseeing the integration of the MEO system into the overall architecture. The first delivery in their missile warning and tracking system, Epoch 1, is planned for fiscal years 2026 and 2027.
The SSC MEO program began as a demonstration that quickly expanded, given the hypersonic missile threat. “The need that we’re focused on is primarily the high-flight vehicles, as that threat is out there right now,” she said. “So, we decided to take the demo to be much bigger than what it was going to be. And we are really focused on trying to build these systems as fast as possible.”
Already, the service is leveraging data gained from one of its first assets in space, the wide-field-of-view satellite in geosynchronous Earth orbit, which is equipped with a next-generation overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) sensor.
“Since launch on July 1, 2022, wide-field-of-view has achieved some milestones to help get to the point we’re at now,” Col. Bogstie explained. “The data that we’re getting from the wide-field-of-view demonstration is really going to inform how we field the MEO missile track program in the future. ... And having OPIR sensors in SSC’s MEO and the Space Development Agency’s LEO layers really helps us be able to track dim, fast-moving targets better than we have in the past.”
And while the groundbreaking solution is in geosynchronous Earth orbit, not MEO, “it’s trailblazing a lot of important functions for us moving forward,” she confirmed. “We’re looking at how we put a new nontraditional sensor into the architecture. Wide-field-of-view is really going to help transition the missile warning architecture to defeat new and emerging threats, so we’re going to be using that sensor to demonstrate that process moving forward.”
The process has not been without challenges, the colonel continued. “We’ve had a few little ups and downs as we’ve fielded it,” she said, noting that they are working on calibration before moving to system certification.
Additionally, the Space Force’s Tools Applications Processing Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, has been developing algorithms with the Delta to help exploit the information coming from the OPIR sensor, she shared.
These efforts are part of a broader combined program office between SSC, the Space Development Agency (SDA) and the Missile Defense Agency. The parties executed a cross-agency agreement to coordinate the development of the overall missile warning, tracking and defense architecture. “With that, we’re looking at how to synchronize and integrate our architectures to best meet a variety of missile warning, missile tracking and missile defense requirements across a broad spectrum of systems so that we can best characterize events that are happening,” Col. Bogstie noted.
Indeed, the close relationships Space Systems Command has with the Space Development Agency and the Missile Defense Agency—and the Combined Program Office—are enabling the service to avoid having to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to missile tracking, the leader noted.
She indicated she expects to follow the Space Development Agency example of delivering capability in spirals in tranches every two years. “We like SDA to be the first leader, and we’re the first follower to what they’re doing. They’re definitely trailblazing through a lot of bureaucratic challenges that we’ve seen over time, and we’re happy to fall in line right after them as they field the Tranche 0 and Tranche 1 layers.”
With SpaceX providing the space transport, the Space Development Agency launched the first 10 of its Tranche 0 satellites April 2 and plans to place the next 18 in orbit this summer. The SSC Delta also is closely following the Missile Defense Agency’s LEO-orbit Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, which is still scheduled for 2023.
Additionally, the combined program office offers a lot of benefits to the Delta in terms of integrated funding and “making sure we are in alignment with our schedules and our road maps going forward as we are developing capabilities,” Col. Bogstie said. The Delta is well versed in the contracts that the Space Development Agency is awarding, including the contract parameters and the performance levels they are looking to get out of their systems. In addition, the Delta has personnel embedded in the Space Development Agency’s location in Chantilly, Virginia. Lt. Col. Ray Imbo, USSF, is the material leader charged with determining their SSC MEO layer ground solution and executing contracts.
“Initially, the demonstrations that we had a contract for were really focused on on-orbit sensors,” Col. Bogstie stated. “And so now with them being funded, we have to think of what our ground solution will look like as we move through the various efforts. Ray is helping us with the ground entry points and our command and control solutions as well. My other materiel leader, Lt. Col. Gary Goff [MEO Space and Advanced Technology] has been crucial in developing and executing the strategy of our acquisition.”
We are really trying to be a trailblazer in terms of digital engineering and modeling for our systems moving forward.
Moreover, Space Development Agency officials are embedded with the Delta at Space Systems Command in California. That includes Lt. Col. Tim Trimailo, the deputy program manager for the SDA’s LEO Tracking Tranche 1 effort, who attends most SSC MEO meetings, and is well integrated in various projects. “He keeps us well-informed of what they’re doing for the tracking layer in Tranche 1. Our programs, in essence, are executing independently, but are closely synchronizing delivery of capability to the warfighter. We really feel the synergies that are playing out now. The three of these folks, along with Program Manager Leo (Craig) Adams of the Missile Defense Agency, really lead the main activities of the combined program office.”
The SSC MEO program is also pioneering the use of digital critical design reviews, which aligns with its goal of being a digital service from the ground up. The effort also involves using digital requests for proposals that ideally will speed up the solicitation process.
“For MEO Epoch 1, we just completed digital critical design reviews (CDRs), which is the first. I don’t think anybody else has done digital CDRs yet,” Col. Bogstie noted. “We are really hoping that we can get to where we’re doing digital RFPs [requests for proposals], including digital models, as much as possible to help streamline the source selection process for us and the evaluation process. We are really trying to be a trailblazer in terms of that digital engineering and digital modeling for our systems moving forward.”
The Epoch contract structure includes optional work extensions after the base period that will allow the organization to understand the system’s performance before making decisions for the next level of acquisitions. “We completed the base period for the two vendors that we have, which are Millennium (Space Systems) and Raytheon, and we subsequently awarded Option One. Option One will get us through system level CDR and to one vehicle. Option Two is really just the option to operate that vehicle, and for Option Three, we’re looking to award that roughly around the September time frame. So, we’re really excited to keep that program moving and get that missile warning coverage.”
In addition, the Delta will hold Industry Days for Epoch Option Two this summer. “With Epoch 2, we’re looking at getting more global coverage,” she stated. “And really, the ground system at this point is going to hopefully grow to be more robust in terms of tipping and queuing.”