The Air Force’s primary early-warning missile system could one day use small satellites to assist in the work.
Speaking at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, Col. Dennis Bythewood, program executive officer for space development at the Space and Missile Systems Center. said DATE that the service was considering using a setup comprised of hundreds of satellites for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system.
OPIR will replace the Air Force’s current early warning missile system, the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS). Those satellites provide early warnings of ballistic missile attacks on the United States, its deployed forces, or its allies. The Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin a $2.9 billion contract to build three geosynchronous OPIR satellites and has contracted with Northrop Grumman to build two satellites covering the polar regions.
Like it’s predecessor, OPIR will be comprised of a small number of large, expensive satellites operating in geosynchronous orbit. But according to Bythewood, Air Force leaders in Los Angeles are considering adopting a proliferated architecture for future OPIR capabilities.
“[OPIR] is a critical capability, but it is still small volume, highly capable satellites that are doing a critical job for our nation. What we’re learning across that mission area and many others is that the best approach from an enhanced resilience standpoint is to build scalable architectures that can adjust to the threat. So we’re looking at various orbits from our Space [Development] Agency,” he said.