Letter | Fostering open architecture and partnership on space-based missile warning

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In a Feb. 1, 2021 SpaceNews article titled, “An open system for missile-warning satellite data is in the works but faces challenges,” a number of assertions were made that were factually incorrect, misleading and taken out of context about Lockheed Martin’s role in our nation’s premiere missile warning systems, including the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) system and the missile warning mission’s next generation ground control system, the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) MDP (Mission Data Processing) and Enterprise Ground Services (EGS). 

In addition, these claims overlook Lockheed Martin’s demonstrated commitment to open architectures and systems, including on these very systems. This article raises some valid questions that we believe are best solved through trust, partnership and the willingness to work to a common goal with the U.S. Space Force, Space and Missile Systems Center and our industry partners. 

To set the record straight on several points in the article:

  1. [S]haring (SBIRS) data with the Forest Service was difficult because ground stations use proprietary technology designed decades ago by the Air Force’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin…

In 2018, the difficulty in sharing SBIRS data with the Forest Service was due to the data classification – which the government controls – and had nothing to do with proprietary technology. The Space Force wholly owns the SBIRS data and controls how and where it is shared.  Lockheed Martin does not own or control this information.

  1. It’s costly to fund two separate ground systems, but it was necessary because Lockheed Martin owns much of the critical technology and has decades of experience as the SBIRS prime contractor…

There are two ground systems for the Next Gen OPIR program, an interim and a objective. SMC required that FORGE and EGS be the permanent, objective open-architecture ground system for missile warning but couldn’t commit to its readiness before 2025, the launch need date for the first Next Gen OPIR geosynchronous satellite. Lockheed Martin is building this first satellite as part of a “Go Fast” rapid acquisition to stay ahead of emerging threats. As a result, SMC required an interim ground system, the Next Generation Interim Operations-FORGE (NIO-F). The need for these systems were not predicated on our critical technologies, but instead on the timeline needed to field next generation satellites focused on emerging threats. The work we are doing on NIO-F is foundational to FORGE & EGS’ success. 

  1. Lockheed Martin has owned the system for more than 20 years”… SMC is negotiating the transfer of intellectual property and software source code to the government …

The Space Force wholly owns and operates both the ground and space segments of SBIRS, as well as its data – not Lockheed Martin. In fact, Lockheed Martin is a pioneer for open systems architecture and standard interfaces on SBIRS, with the founding of the Tools Applications Processing (TAP) Lab in Boulder and Highly Efficient Mission Integrator (HEMI), which provides an interface to missile warning data. HEMI and the TAP Lab demonstrated how a Modular, Open-Systems Architecture (MOSA) approach can support real time, low latency missions critical to the Space Force.

Today, with the SBIRS 5/6 and Next Gen OPIR GEO space vehicles we are designing and manufacturing, we’re actively building and contributing to FORGE and EGS with our work on Highly Elliptical Orbit Migration to EGS & FORGE (HOME), Geosynchronous (GEO) Non-Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment (ITWAA) Ops Migration to EGS (GNOME), and Next Gen OPIR GEO itself. These contracts are crucial to the evolution of OPIR data to FORGE and EGS, and they migrate various components within the OPIR constellation. 

  1. Lockheed Martin received two contracts worth $7.8 billion for the development and production of three geosynchronous Next-Gen OPIR satellites. The Space Force also awarded a $2.4 billion contract to Northrop Grumman for two Next-Gen OPIR polar orbit satellites.

This section is misleading. The $7.8 billion figure cited is part of two contract options ($2.9B and $4.9B) that Lockheed Martin was awarded for both the development and production of the Next Gen OPIR GEO satellites. This cannot be compared to Northrop Grumman’s Next-Gen OPIR polar orbit satellite contract, which only covers the spacecraft development phase.  

Additionally, for Next Gen OPIR GEO, it’s worthwhile noting that a space program of this size — which includes developing two entirely new missile warning payloads — has never moved this fast. Working in close partnership with the Space and Missile Systems Center, we remain on track to launch the first space vehicle in 2025. We understand that Next Gen OPIR is a critically important program for defense of our nation that provides advanced missile warning capabilities with a new level of resiliency that can keep us ahead of rapidly evolving threats.

To succeed against our adversaries, we believe that working together – government and industry — will help solve our nation’s toughest challenges. Our leadership in numerous consortia demonstrates our commitment to developing and adopting open architectures and data standards, which allow for the industry competition and integration of “best-of-breed” technology across the space enterprise. 

We won’t counter our adversary’s threats without trust and shared commitment to this critical national security mission. 

Kay Sears is Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of military space