Lockheed Martin selects payload providers for next-generation missile warning satellites

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The selection of Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace sets up a payload competition that the Air Force has said is necessary to inject innovation into the next-gen OPIR program.

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin announced on Thursday it has selected Raytheon and a Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace team to compete for the mission payloads of the U.S. Air Force’s next generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Block 0 missile warning satellites.

The selection sets up a payload competition that the Air Force has said is necessary to inject innovation into the next-gen OPIR program. The mission payloads are central components of the missile-warning system, and require advanced sensors and electronics that meet national security satellite requirements.

Lockheed Martin on August 14 was awarded a non-competitive sole-source $2.9 billion contract to produce three-geosynchronous Earth orbit satellites. Northrop Grumman got a smaller piece of the program to build two Polar orbit satellites.  Lockheed Martin selected the two suppliers on September 28.

The Raytheon and Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace teams were chosen “due to their ability to meet stringent schedule and capability requirements,” Lockheed Martin said in a news release. “They are now tasked to develop detailed designs and compete their solutions for potential use on the next-gen OPIR Block 0 GEO satellites.” A final down-select is expected at the end of a critical design review in 2020.

The Air Force made the next-gen OPIR missile warning satellites one its top acquisition priorities to keep pace with adversaries’ advances in anti-satellite weapons. It will succeed the Space Based Infrared System and will be more survivable and resilient against emerging threats, Lockheed Martin said. The first GEO satellite is expected to be delivered in 60 months.

“We recognize that this is a watershed program for the Air Force, and we understand the need to ‘go fast’ to ensure our national security posture stays ahead of emerging global threats,” said Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for OPIR systems. In a statement, he said the company is working with the Air Force on several initiatives to speed up satellite acquisition, including introducing more commonality of parts and procedures into production, building predictability into schedules and greater use of additive manufacturing.