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DoD sees LEO, MEO satellites as future of US missile defence

A US Marine Corps field radio operator from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit set up satellite communication at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, in 2008. (US Department of Defense )

Senior policy decision makers at the US Department of Defense (DoD) and US Space Force (USSF) are seeking to transition the US missile defence apparatus away from geosynchronous (GEO) satellite constellations, in favour of those that operate at low Earth Orbit (LEO) and mid Earth orbit (MEO), a top Pentagon official said.

“As the future progresses ... the department should move away from these larger satellites in the highly elliptical orbits and the satellites at geosynchronous, and in the future go to a proliferated [tracking] layer at low Earth orbit (LEO) and mid Earth orbit (MEO),” Derek Tournear, head of the Pentagon's Space Development Agency (SDA), said during an 18 July briefing at the Pentagon.

“There will be an overlap for some time when we have satellites that are both at geosynchronous orbit [and] satellites in highly elliptical orbits, while we build up this LEO and MEO constellation. But eventually, it will go to all LEO and all MEO to be able to do the missile warning [and] missile tracking mission,” Tournear told reporters during the briefing.

The transition from GEO satellites to LEO and MEO constellations for missile warning and tracking operations was one of several future force recommendations made by the Space Warfighting Analysis Cell (SWAC) at USSF, according to Tournear. Created in April 2021, the analysis cell was designed to be the de facto co-ordination hub between the service branch, the Pentagon, and the Joint Staff to develop USSF force structure, mission, and capability requirements.

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