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US Space Force Seeks $16 Billion to Build New Class of Satellites to Track Hypersonic Missiles


Washington: The US Space Force said it needs nearly $16 billion over five years to keep building a new class of satellites that can track missiles moving at hypersonic speeds, more than twice the previous forecast.

When service leaders unveiled the Space Force’s fiscal 2024 budget request on March 13, they highlighted a $2.3 billion request for satellites that can detect and track such threats — a $1.1 billion increase over what Congress appropriated in FY23. Documents released March 20 show the service is eyeing even steeper funding increases for the effort in the coming years.

Through the Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking program, the Space Force is developing small satellites in orbits less than 22,000 miles above Earth that can observe enemy missiles. The service has traditionally operated them from higher altitudes, but as Russia and China develop weapons that can travel and manoeuvre above Mach 5 speeds, or five times the speed of sound, officials want to strengthen defences by launching smaller satellites into more diverse orbits.

The spacecraft will eventually replace the Space-Based Infrared System in orbit today as well as the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites that the service is building to provide coverage until enough Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking satellites are operating and can take over the mission.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said the service’s ability to defend against threats from China and Russia will depend on how quickly it can transition to new capabilities, like the space-based missile warning and tracking satellites.

“It’s about how fast we can shift and pivot to resilient architectures that we think will support deterrence,” Saltzman said during a McAleese & Associates conference in Washington on March 15.

The FY24 budget documents, which include details on what the service expects to spend on the Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking program through FY28, project annual spending to grow from about $2.3 billion in FY24 to a high of more than $5 billion in FY27. The funding profile is a $9 billion increase above last year’s five-year forecast.

The majority of that budget, if approved by Congress, would support a fleet of satellites in low Earth orbit, about 1,200 miles above Earth — an effort run by the Space Development Agency. The service’s request includes $1.2 billion for the LEO satellites in FY24 and a total of $9.7 billion over the next five years.

L3Harris Technologies, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and SpaceX are all contracted to build the satellites, which will make up what the agency calls its Tracking Layer. The agency is scheduled to launch the first spacecraft at the end of March and plans to field new satellites every two years.