WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force selected Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to develop competing ground systems for a next-generation space communications network that can survive a nuclear attack.

Each company won a $30 million contract to develop prototypes of a ground system for the Evolved Strategic Satcom (ESS) program, the Space Systems Command announced May 2.

ESS is a classified satcom system designed to operate in the event of a nuclear war. 

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are developing competing satellite designs. The Pentagon plans to spend $6.5 billion on the ESS program over the next five years. 

The ESS satellites are intended to augment and eventually replace the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) network of nuclear-hardened geostationary satellites made by Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman developed the AEHF XDR (Extreme Data Rate) payload.

The ESS satellites and ground systems will be part of the nation’s nuclear communications architecture that allows the president, through the military chain of command, to command and control strategic bombers, ballistic submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Lockheed Martin’s team that will develop one of the ground systems includes Stratagem, Integrity-Communications-Solutions, Infinity and BAE Systems.

Raytheon’s team includes Dell, Seed Innovations, Infinity, Kratos, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Communications, Parsons, Polaris Alpha, Quantum Research, Koverse, Caliola Engineering, Kythera, Northstrat Inc., Optimal, RKF Engineering and Ascension Engineering. 

Each team will have 18 months to demonstrate the prototypes and the Space Systems Command plans to select one for further development.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...