Budget Busters: The USA’s SBIRS-High Missile Warning Satellites
August 16/18: SBIRS replacement underway The US pace and Missile Systems Center is ordering new missile defense satellites. Lockheed Martin will manufacture the three Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Space Vehicles at a cost of $2.9 billion. The satellites will be a follow on to the US Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) program. The SBIRS architecture includes a resilient mix of satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO), payloads in highly elliptical orbit (HEO), as well as ground-based hardware and software. The integrated system supports multiple missions simultaneously, while providing robust performance with global, persistent coverage. The Next-Gen OPIR will succeed the current SBIRS by providing improved missile warning capabilities that are more survivable against emerging threats. This order supplements a similar contract to be awarded to Lockheed Martin, that sees for the production of two polar space vehicles. The contract encompasses a variety of tasks ranging from requirements analysis to a system critical design review. Work will be performed at Lockheed’s facility in Sunnyvale, California, and is expected to be completed by April 30th, 2021.
The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-High satellite program is a key component of the USA’s future missile alert system, designed to give maximum warning and monitoring of ballistic missile launches anywhere in the world. The new satellites will replace the existing Defense Support Program (DSP) fleet. Their infrared sensors have 3x the sensitivity of DSP and 2x the revisit rate, while providing better persistent coverage.
Unfortunately, the program has been beset by massive cost overruns on the order of 400%, technical challenges that continue to present problems, and uncertainties about performance. Despite these problems, the U.S. Air Force is proceeding with the program, and has terminated potential alternatives and supplements. However, as part of a January 2015 effort to institute cost reforms, the Air Force will weaken requirements for the program, and at least three other major procurement programs.
SBIRS – High: Current State
SBIRS: Budgets & Next Steps
Contracts and Key Events
FY 2014 – 2018
FY 2009 – 2015
Background: Space Vehicles
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