Marcel Lettre, the under secretary of defense for intelligence. Credit: USGIF

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Defense Department and intelligence community will have to weigh increased capabilities versus the ability for future satellites to withstand attacks from China and Russia, a senior Pentagon leader said May 16.

Marcel Lettre, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, said during a keynote speech here that as the Defense Department and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the country’s spy satellites, review requirements for future architectures, “we might have to trade off some collection performance for improved resiliency.”

Already, a focus on resiliency – basically the ability to continue to operate through an attack – have “dramatically influenced our requirements for GEOINT and SIGINT systems,” he said.

“We want to make sure our systems are available when we need them most,” he said. “To help offset these trades for any resilience capabilities, we’ll likely look to available commercial or coalition systems to help address any capability shortfalls.”

The Defense Department and intelligence community are concerned about an emerging threat to national security satellites from China and Russia, which are often described as militaries with “near peer” capabilities.

During his speech, Lettre also said a decision on the next-generation of the architecture for the follow-on to the Air Force’s Space Based Infrared Systems is expected later this fall.

In acquisition documents posted to the Federal Business Opportunities posted May 3, the Air Force said it was considering three reference architectures for a follow-on system. Those architectures include:

  • six satellites in an aggregated geosynchronous inclined orbit;
  • six strategic-mission satellites in geosynchronous inclined orbit and two satellites or hosted payloads in geosynchronous orbit;
  • the current program of record, which is made up of four satellites in geosynchronous orbit and two payloads aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbit.

The Air Force said in the request for information that industry could also suggest other architectures.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.