Satellites and military space sensors often operate as a glaring, ever-present “electric eye” zooming in on earth to look for heat signatures coming from launching enemy rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the movement of troops and military equipment, and a fast-changing battlefield environment.
How can human decision-makers discern, organize and process crucial, time-sensitive operational data at the “speed of relevance?” This ability to “see” threats at greater ranges and traveling at hypersonic speeds from one radar field of view to another, is among the Pentagon’s most sought after or “needed” technologies, Vice Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Jon Hyten said at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
This challenge relates to matters of the most crucial military significance, such as the speed at which an Air Force space-based infrared system can process the data associated with a mission event. The system will search for event signatures, which must be distinguished from seemingly similar signals, processed, and placed within a broader mission context to the maximum degree possible.
The dynamics of this endeavor center around the speed and precision with which human decision-makers can respond to a threat. The Air Force’s need to make rapid decisions in life-or-death situations is the foundation upon which it is designing and building its Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) enterprise. The military service is moving quickly to ramp up its rapid prototyping efforts, which would streamline the technical development process.
Lockheed Martin has a multi-billion deal with the Air Force to create a new, operational OPIR system by 2025.
OPIR is anticipated to massively improve and expand upon the technological capacity to detect, track and transmit time-sensitive threat information. The objective Next-Generation OPIR constellation consists of Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites and Polar satellites in sufficient numbers to meet global warming coverage with no exploitable holes. To achieve this goal there must be three GEO satellites and two Polar satellites. The first GEO satellite is required to be ready to launch no later than 2025.
“OPIR maintains continuity with the modernized LM 2100 bus, however, the payloads have both new and more stringent requirements than SBIRS,” according to a Lockheed Martin press statement.
Lockheed Martin is making specific efforts to align its OPIR system with the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council specifications outlining the kinds of capabilities needed for a new generation of missile-warning technology.
This technology will be able to detect the heat signature emerging from a missile launch, but OPIR also expands the curve beyond SBIR with new payloads, ground-terminal transmission and connectivity, data gathering, organization and analysis, and substantially increased cyber resiliency.
Kris Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.