Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Missile-Warning Augmentation: A Low-Risk Approach

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Missile-Warning Augmentation: A Low-Risk Approach

Article excerpt

Recent operational successes with new space-based capabilities offer important reminders of our dedication to a strong space program for national security. Our military and intelligence operational responsibilities worldwide demand timely intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, warning, and communications to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the force. Investments in research, development, production, and operations have yielded important space-based mission capabilities that differentiate the United States and its allies in the execution of national security objectives.

The dependence of US national security on space continues to grow. A drumbeat of studies, reviews, speeches, articles, and congressional testimony, however, carries a clear message: (1) US national security space systems cost too much and take too long to go from concept refinement to deployment; (2) threats to our space capabilities are significant and increasing-if left unaddressed, our space infrastructure will become more vulnerable, fragile, and indefensible; and (3) the current US financial situation, including potentially draconian defense cuts, challenges the continuation of status quo acquisitions.

This article seeks to realistically address documented risks associated with a rapid transition from baseline space-program architectures if that transition involves immature technology alternatives. It draws on past Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, studies, and program histories to raise awareness of the significant threats to successful operations and program acquisition when architectural transition decisions rely on unproven design and limited understanding of the ability and cost of production. The article includes direct reference to overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) architectural-transition concepts currently under consideration with the advent of disaggregation approaches by the Space and Missile Center. Initial concepts introduced by the center include changing from the space-based infrared system (SBIRS) to a wide field of view (WFOV) disaggregated approach.1 This article recommends a judicious, low-risk demonstration and prototyping approach to insert capability, retire risk, and realize enhanced estimation of production and manufacturing costs.

Reinventing Space

Recently, Air Force leaders have made efforts to explore new architectures and acquisition strategies as potential solutions to the perceived high cost of continuing legacy space programs. Today most of the service's constellations consist of a few large, highly capable (typically multimission) spacecraft. Specifically, these new candidate architectures advocate the distribution of mission capabilities onto a variety of platforms-commercial or smaller, purpose-built craft. This concept, termed disaggregation, urges the United States to "buy capabilities in smaller capacity increments, distributed across more but smaller satellites or hosted payloads, and migrate ground segments to (shared), modular, open architectures."2 Interestingly, OPIR already represents a disaggregated architecture that uses multiple, different orbits; freeflying and hosted payloads; and a distributed ground architecture to support a number of mission users. Is the national security community ready to begin such an extensive and, some would say, radical transition to additional new architecturaland capability-procurement approaches-especially when one considers that our current systems are just beginning to demonstrate significantly enhanced performance and functionality beyond expectation?3

Although the OPIR mission area has existed for decades as overhead nonimaging infrared with SBIRS and other systems, it is now the new kid on the block, integrating target-signature nuances, time, and place into persistent intelligence and operational products that bring exciting capabilities to the war fighter. The timely, near-seamless integration of observations provides discriminating capabilities. …

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