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US Navy missile warning programme clears critical design review

A rendering of the Relay Ground Station-Asia antenna facility to be deployed in Guam. (Northrop Grumman)

A critical piece of the US Navy's early warning missile defence capability in the Indo-Pacific has achieved a key development milestone, clearing the way for eventual fielding and deployment into the region.

Service officials overseeing the Relay Ground Station-Asia (RGS-A) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) antenna programme approved the Northrop Grumman-built system for critical design review (CDR) certification, company officials said in a 23 October statement.

Securing CDR certification now puts the RGS-A programme on track for a target deployment date of 2025, which is 18 months ahead of schedule, Northrop Grumman officials said in the statement. The CDR approval comes roughly four months after programme officials secured preliminary design review (PDR) certification in June 2023.

As designed, the navy plans to integrate the RGS-A into ground station elements supporting the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) network at geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), to meet operational requirements for early warning missile defence at Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, according to service documents.

From the six proposed RGS-A locations in Guam, officials at NWIC Pacific will be able to provide “uplink and downlink capability to the Legacy SBIRS GEO … Next-Gen GEO, and Next-Generation Polar space vehicles”, service officials wrote in the initial RGS-A solicitation in October 2021.

RGS-A's modular connectivity capability will also play into ongoing efforts to stand up the SBIRS network replacement, dubbed the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) system, being spearheaded by the US Space Force (USSF). The Next-Gen OPIR network will initially consist of three GEO satellites, two polar satellites in highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and an integrated centralised ground station, according to the USSF's fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget blueprint.

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