Pentagon dumps $1.5B more into military sat network that's already slipping behind

Trending 1 month ago

Things haven't gone to scheme precisely for nan US military's latest warfighting outer constellation, but that hasn't stopped nan Department of Defense from shelling retired much than a cardinal dollars to build much hardware for nan up-in-the-skies project. 

The Space Development Agency (SDA), a portion of Space Force, announced Monday it had awarded astir $1.5 cardinal to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for a batch of 72 satellites for nan Pentagon's Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA) constellation.

Technically speaking, these birds will shape a prototype constellation called nan Tranche 2 Transport Layer - Beta (T2TL) arsenic portion of nan PWSA program. (It's nan military: thing is straightforward.) The first of these satellites are expected to motorboat by September 2026.

The PWSA constellation is nan SDA's sole project, and is yet planned to beryllium "a threat-driven constellation of mini satellites that present captious services to our warfighters from space," nan agency said. Think of it arsenic chucking a load of satellites into different orbits to support America's equipped forces connected via a communications web up supra successful orbit.

Among nan services nan PWSA will supply to nan US subject are: low-latency tactical information links; improved rocket tracking, and onshore and marine target coverage; and targeting of objects beyond statement of sight. It's nan space-based backbone for nan Department of Defense's Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) infrastructure, which nan DoD sees arsenic nan early of its expertise to merge nan subject crossed space, air, land, oversea and cyber domains. 

Too galore targets

Both Russia and China person shown they're consenting and capable to rustle up orbiting satellites. The SDA said nan "proliferated" portion of nan PWSA is expected to mitigate that threat done its sheer number of hard-to-hit targets. Safety successful numbers, 1 mightiness say.

Speaking successful April astatine nan Navy League's 2023 Sea Air Space Conference and Expo, SDA head Derek Tournear said PWSA will motorboat "hundreds and hundreds of satellites" truthful that if immoderate are destroyed by a overseas power, nan web will proceed to function.

"Our satellites are much affordable than nan missiles that you request to sprout them down. So we've benignant of taken that disconnected nan table. We made it to wherever it's really difficult to sprout those satellites down conscionable by kindness of proliferation," Tournear said. 

  • US Space Force yet creates targeting portion – amended precocious than never, right?
  • Report reveals US Space Force unprepared to antagonistic orbital threats
  • Uncle Sam: Rest of nan world would emotion to bargain our abstraction blueprints – don't fto 'em
  • Uncle Sam wants DEF CON hackers to pwn this Moonlighter outer successful space

Along pinch sheer quantity, Tournear said that PWSA would besides beryllium deployed astatine aggregate low-Earth orbit altitudes to further complicate nan constellation and make it harder to disrupt. 

This, of course, raises nan mobility of really PWSA will combat our increasing space garbage problem. We put that and respective different questions to nan SDA, and await a reply. 

What's successful a tranche?

This latest batch of satellites will augment nan first tranche, scheduled for deployment successful fiscal twelvemonth 2024. Tranche 1 craft, successful turn, will supply first warfighting capabilities specified arsenic "regional persistence for tactical information links, precocious rocket detection, and beyond statement of show targeting," nan SDA said. 

Tranche 3 is expected to characteristic amended rocket search capabilities; improved position, navigation, and timing; and protected RF communications. Also planned is tranche 4, which SDA only describes arsenic adding "continual advances to nan [prior] layers."

There's besides a tranche 0, nan very first batch of satellites, 10 of which were launched successful April. Those first satellites are chiefly information transporters and rocket trackers, and are a "minimum viable product" designed to show nan feasibility of nan proliferated style of creation PWSA is leaning connected for funding. 

Tranche 0 is besides wherever problems began to popular up for nan PWSA. First, supply concatenation delays pushed backmost a March motorboat to April, and past nan 2nd motorboat was delayed from June to July, past pushed backmost to precocious August, reportedly because of unspecified cryptography issues pinch nan NSA.

Along pinch that, nan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been reluctant to clear nan tranche 0 satellites for downlinking because of concerns complete imaginable EM interference.

Instead of getting clearance to link to stationary receiver stations successful nan US, nan SDA has only been fixed support to trial its caller satellites by downlinking to craft flying complete oceans.

The Register reached retired to nan FAA to get clarity connected its PWSA spat pinch nan SDA, and we didn't instantly perceive back. 

Tranche 0 was expected to beryllium tested complete nan summer [PDF], though missed its model owed to nan aforementioned issues pinch nan FAA and NSA that delayed nan 2nd motorboat and nan SDA's expertise to downlink from its satellites.

It's unclear erstwhile tests will really occur, aliases whether delays will alteration nan SDA's deployment timeline. Your taxation dollars are astatine work, however. ®