WASHINGTON: As DoD explores revolutionary new approaches to satellite-based missile warning and missile defense, Raytheon is focusing on almost all aspects of that effort — working with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Space Development Agency (SDA) and the Air Force to provide both cutting edge technologies and broader advice about proposed architectures.
Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, told Breaking Defense on July 30 there are a number of Pentagon initiatives “all feeding into each other to allow for the maturation of both technologies and architectures for whatever the future missile warning/missile defense constellation looks like.
“There has been a lot of wargaming and other activities within the thinktanks and the services around technical architectures in a whole range of different world scenarios,” he noted. “So we are primarily focused on giving technical solutions around specific architectures.”
Raytheon has a long history in the missile warning business, and is heavily entwined in the Air Force’s multi-pronged Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) program to replace the current Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellites.
Raytheon has been under contract since 2018, along with competitor Northrop Grumman, to develop payloads for Next Gen OPIR’s Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) based satellites, being built by Lockheed Martin as prime contractor. Air Force plans call for an eventual constellation of five satellites in GEO and two in Polar Orbit. The next step for the GEO segment of Next Gen OPIR is critical design review (CDR), Laughrey said, noting that the company is under orders not to reveal the date.
According to earlier Air Force documentation, CDR for advanced sensor payloads for the first of the GEO satellites was set for the end of 2020. However, this may not hold because the schedule was based on both DoD’s fiscal year 2020 funding request of $1.4 billion, and reprogramming of $632 million into the Next-Gen OPIR budget this year. Congress has moved to cut funds — and is expressing concern that the program is being pushed too far, too fast.
Air Force fiscal 2020 budget documentation calls for launching of the first of three so-called Block 0 Next-Gen OPIR GEO satellites planned to be launched in 2025.
Laughrey said it’s possible that the Air Force will keep both Raytheon and Northrop Grumman as Next-Gen OPIR GEO payload providers, “if funding is available.” This would not only assure diversity of the supply base, he explained, it also paves the way for insertion of a diversity of new technologies that each company is developing.
The Air Force is planning on orbiting the first Block 0 version of the Next-Gen OPIR Polar satellites in 2027; with all five of the Block 0 constellation to be on orbit by 2029. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the Polar satellites, and Laughrey said that the Air Force has yet to announce who the payload competitors are — although Raytheon is in the running.
At the same time, the Air Force is gearing up for the follow-on Next-Gen OPIR Block 1 satellites that will replace the initial constellation, with a direct solicitation for early-stage development of critical technologies such as focal planes. “They have been pretty wide open about the kinds of technologies and concepts they are looking for,” said Laughrey. The Air Force has yet to announce any awards under that prong of the Next-Gen OPIR program, he said, but said he expects that to be imminent.
Raytheon further is under contract with the DARPA as a military payload provider for its Blackjack technology maturation program, Laughrey noted.
Under the Blackjack schedule, the Phase 1 design review for both payloads and busses is slated for the end of third-quarter this year. DARPA awarded several bus contracts late last year: $2.9 million to an Airbus/OneWeb team; $2.8 million to Telesat; and $1.5 million to Blue Canyon. In January, it added a $1.5 million payload contract to Trident Systems. The end goal of the program is to demonstrate 20 satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by the end of third-quarter 2022. More importantly, the overarching goal Blackjack is to prove the feasibility of LEO constellations based on a Lego-like, low-cost, commercial-style model.
It is the possibility of LEO constellations for various aspects of missile warning and missile defense that most excite Pentagon Research and Engineering czar Mike Griffin, whose purview includes oversight of SDA and MDA.
SDA is exploring a new type of multi-mission architecture for all future DoD space efforts — from communications to potential weapons deployment to operations in cislunar space — that includes missile warning/defense elements. One of its primary focuses is on a data transport layer that would allow the transfer of sensor data gleaned from missile warning satellites to be passed from satellite to satellite in LEO, so that it could be downlinked almost anywhere on the globe in a highly responsive manner.
SDA held its first industry day on July 23, based on a request for information (RFI) it released to interested vendors on July 1. Here too, Raytheon is a key player, said Laughrey. Raytheon was “working with SDA from its conception,” he said, and was in attendance at the SDA meeting. The meeting attracted hundreds of interested, or at least curious, contractors, despite the fact that SDA’s very existence is being questioned by Congress.
“We are providing them concepts and technology roadmaps on areas where we’re investing to [highlight] specific technologies such as on communications, missile warning, missile defense and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance),” Laughrey said, “and to show the alignment of our investments in technologies that enable their vision.”
Further, Laughrey said that in all of its space-related work — as well as across the entire Raytheon company — a key element is cybersecurity. For example, he said, the company is conscientious in trying to ensure anti-tamper technology and radiation hardening “across the board” for space systems. “Raytheon, not just my division, has a broad base in protected satcom,” he said, noting the firms involvement in building terminals for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite constellations.