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Military Capabilities

Key US lawmaker proposes NRO take over SBIRS follow-on programme

28 February 2018

Key Points

  • A key lawmaker proposes the NRO take over the SBIRS follow-on effort from the USAF
  • He cited the secretive intelligence agency’s flatter organisational design and speed of acquisition

A key US lawmaker on 28 February proposed the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) take over the follow-on programme to the US Air Force’s (USAF) Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellite constellation.A key US lawmaker proposed the NRO take over the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared programme, the follow on to SBIRS, from the USAF. Pictured is an original SBIRS satellite. (Lockheed Martin)A key US lawmaker proposed the NRO take over the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared programme, the follow on to SBIRS, from the USAF. Pictured is an original SBIRS satellite. (Lockheed Martin)

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) strategic forces subcommittee Ranking Member James Cooper of Tennessee cited the secretive intelligence agency’s speed of acquisition, flatter organisational design, and accountability. Cooper’s counterpart, Chairman Michael Rogers of Alabama, cited SBIRS follow-on as one programme the USAF could accelerate and said the private sector could fix it. Cooper’s and Rogers’ remarks came at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington.

The USAF, in its fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) budget request, announced it was moving to its SBIRS follow-on programme, formally known as Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR). The service is discontinuing the procurement of SBIRS satellites 7 and 8 and is shifting funding to the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) of Evolved SBIRS (E-SBIRS) that invests in Next-Gen OPIR.

Next-Gen OPIR will be a big budget programme for the USAF. The service requested USD643 million in FY 2019 and anticipates requesting USD7.4 billion through FY 2023.

A top Pentagon official in December criticised the USAF’s timeline for fielding its next-generation missile warning satellite constellation. US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Chief General John Hyten said it was ridiculous that the USAF considered it risky to deliver the Next-Gen OPIR capability by 2029.

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