New Software Expands Missile Defense Role for SBIRS Satellites

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WASHINGTON — Data from U.S. Air Force missile warning satellites will be able to trigger the firing of interceptors as part of a software upgrade Lockheed Martin turned over to the Missile Defense Agency for testing earlier this year.

The system, known as Spiral 8.2-1 of the Ballistic Missile Defense Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system, is expected to be deployed by U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Pacific Command next year, according to Lockheed Martin executives and MDA budget documents.

The improvement would mark another step toward more fully integrating the Air Force’s $19 billion Space Based Infrared System into the missile defense mission. Lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon in recent years for not wringing out all of the data the satellites are able to provide.

J.D. Hammond, director of missile defense systems at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions of Herndon, Virginia, said the software upgrade would provide “significant added value” from the satellites.

The C2BMC is the interface between the sensors, including terrestrial radars and satellites, and interceptors that comprise the ballistic missile defense system. These sensors track incoming missiles and feed the data into the fire control system for the interceptor.

Lockheed Martin is prime contractor on the C2MBC program, leading a team that also includes Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon. The team is working with the MDA on a series of incremental improvements to the system as part of a $980 million contract awarded in 2012.

The ultimate goal is to be able pair “any sensor with any shooter to defeat ballistic missile threats at any range, in all theaters,” MDA budget documents say.

The new software includes a feature known as “launch on remote,” which according to Hammond “enables us to a get an interceptor in the air before the organic sensor that’s attached to the interceptor has picked up on that threat.”

Currently, interceptors do not launch until their attached radars have locked onto the target and a firing solution has been developed. These so-called organic sensors are often cued by data from remote sensors like SBIRS, whose infrared sensors detect the hot exhaust plumes of missiles as they lift off and also determine where they are headed.

In a launch-on-remote scenario, it is technically feasible for an interceptor to be launched based on the SBIRS data alone. The interceptor’s course toward its target is then refined using data from the organic and other sensors, Hammond said.

Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the nominal SBIRS constellation consists of four dedicated satellites in geosynchronous orbit and infrared sensors aboard two classified satellites in highly elliptical orbit. To date, two dedicated SBIRS satellites, plus three hosted sensors, are on orbit.

The Air Force also operates an undisclosed number of legacy Defense Support Program missile warning satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Lockheed Martin formally turned the most recent C2MBC software increment over to the MDA for testing in April, but discussed it publicly for the first time at the press briefing here.

“C2BMC automates the process of using [Overhead Persistent Infrared] data to cue ground-based sensors,” Hammond said. “C2BMC also uses OPIR data to develop the interceptor firing solution prior to the interceptor’s organic sensor being able to detect the threat missile.”

Pentagon officials requested $450 million for C2BMC program development for fiscal year 2016. The budget for 2016 has not been finalized.