A constellation of satellites will track ground vehicles, improve launch trajectories, and better nuclear command-and-control.
The Space Force is requesting $24.5 billion in the 2023 budget, roughly 40 percent more than in last year’s request. Officials said the jump reflects the urgency to launch and defend satellites that can spot a hypersonic missile, track a moving truck, assure U.S. nuclear command and control, and more.
Among areas that need improving, “There's no more important services than missile warning and the nuclear command-and-control capability we get from space,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Friday in a pre-budget briefing with reporters.
The plus-up also reflects the new missions that Space Force will absorb from the Space Development Agency; they focus on defending satellites and creating a new layer of hundreds of lower-orbit satellites to minimize the effect of losing one.
“The fast-growing array of threats that can attack American interests in, through, and from space pose a challenge that cannot be addressed through enhancements to decreasingly relevant legacy space systems designed for an uncontested domain,” the Space Force wrote in its supporting budget documents.
The budget request also includes $566 million for the Space Force’s evolved strategic SATCOM program, which ensures survivable strategic communications for the presidential fleet and DOD’s nuclear command and control aircraft.
“Our general posture has been to assume essentially impunity in space,” Kendall said. “We could put up expensive systems in small numbers, not worrying too much about [them] getting attacked—that era is over.”
More than $2 billion has been requested for two systems: about $1 billion for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellites that will replace Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, and $1 billion for a new constellation of hundreds of networked, low Earth orbit, optically connected satellites under development at the Space Development Agency tasked with missile tracking and early missile warning.
“Right now, the department has satellites that provide global missile warning capability to essentially detect launches of missiles, but nothing that can actually detect the new advanced missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles and such,” a senior defense official who briefed reporters earlier this month said. “And so this would be the first to be able to provide that over the globe.”
By forming a linked network in low Earth orbit, the missile tracking and missile warning satellites will be more dispersed and survivable. They’ll be able to speed NATO allies targeting data with secure Link-16 communications and track hypersonic missiles with unprecedented speed and accuracy, the official said.
The satellites will “be able to detect missile launches at sensitivity levels that are not achievable today with the missile warning system,” the official said, “and being able to provide those those rocket and missile launch and detection data to war fighters directly in theater, over tactical data links, so that they can either take evasive action, take cover or in the event that we have capabilities to take them out in glide or terminal phase, to be able to engage.”
The Space Force is also absorbing the U.S. Air Force’s Ground Moving Target Indicator mission from JSTARS aircraft the Air Force is planning to retire, because those aircraft cannot safely operate in contested airspace, such as the multiple surface to air defense systems Russia has operating over Ukrainian airspace. GMTI is tasked with tracking movements on the ground, such as by vehicles, to detect where it was previously and predict where it is headed.
Instead, the Space Force will provide that capability via satellite.