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Space Based Infrared System [SBIRS] - High

sbirslogo.jpg - 21.2 KThe GEO spacecraft bus consists of a militarized, radiation-hardened version of the Lockheed Martin A2100 spacecraft, providing power, attitude control, command and control, and a communications subsystem with five separate mission data downlinks to meet mission requirements, including system survivability and endurability requirements. The GEO infrared payload consists of two sensors; a scanner and a step-starer. The scanning sensor continuously scans the earth to provide 24/7 global strategic missile warning capability. Data from the scanner also contributes to theater and intelligence missions.

The step-staring sensor, with its highly-agile and highly-accurate pointing and control system, provides coverage for theater missions and intelligence areas of interest with its fast revisit rates and high sensitivity. Similar to the GEO scanning sensor, the HEO sensor is a scanning sensor, with sensor pointing performed by slewing the full telescope on a gimbal. Both the GEO and HEO infrared sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are down-linked to the ground, so that the same radiometric scene observed in space will be available on the ground for processing. The GEO sensors also perform on-board signal processing and transmit detected events to the ground, in addition to the unprocessed raw data.

The SBIRS program is intended to combine the activities of the existing development programs considered in the study into a single, integrated program to most effectively meet the military's infrared surveillance requirements well into the next century. The plan is for the SBIRS program to be a potential 10-year Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) type effort. It was planned as a two-phased program with the first phase to perform space and ground system architecture trades and to develop candidate solutions, and the second phase to mature the chosen solution and deploy and test an initial constellation and ground system.

SBIRS High is designed to contribute to four defense mission areas: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence, and battle-space characterization. SBIRS High is intended to replace the DSP satellite constellation, which has provided early missile warning information for more than 30 years, and to provide better and more timely data to the Unified Combatant Commanders, U.S. deployed forces, US military strategists, and US allies.

As planned in 2004, SBIRS High was to be comprised of four satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO), two infrared sensors that are to be placed on separate host satellites in highly elliptical orbit (HEO) -- known as "HEO sensors"-- and a ground segment for mission processing and control. The Air Force planned to acquire a fifth GEO satellite to serve as a spare that would be launched when needed.

SBIRS High is intended to provide taskable sensors with improved sensitivity and revisit rate allowing them to see dimmer objects and provide more accurate estimates of missile launch and impact point than the sensors in the existing satellite constellation. SBIRS High sensors are also expected to view particular areas of interest and to revisit multiple areas of interest as directed by ground controllers. In addition to covering the shortwave infrared spectrum like their predecessor, SBIRS High sensors are also expected to cover midwave infrared bands and see-to-the-ground bands allowing them to perform a broad set of missions. Midwave infrared bands provide the below-the-horizon launch phase and missile tracking. See-to-the-ground bands provide below-the-horizon tracking of slow or static dim targets below 6.2 miles.

  • Missile Warning: SBIRS High is expected to provide reliable, unambiguous, timely, and accurate missile warning information to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, Unified Combatant Commanders, and other users. This mission includes both global and theater requirements to provide strategic and theater ballistic missile warning in support of passive defense and force posturing.
  • Missile Defense: SBIRS High is expected to provide reliable, accurate, and timely information to defensive systems. This mission includes both strategic and theater functional requirements to enable active missile defense and attack operations against hostile forces.
  • Technical Intelligence: SBIRS High is expected to provide reliable, accurate, and timely infrared target signature and threat performance data to warfighters, the intelligence community, weapon system developers, and other users. This data may be used for target classification and identification templates and algorithm development for SBIRS High operational missions. SBIRS High also monitors activities and provides information to policy makers and other users on observed military tactics, new foreign technology development, arms control compliance, and proliferation activities.
  • Battle-space Characterization: SBIRS High provides reliable, accurate, and timely data to enhance situational awareness, non-ballistic missile threat warning, decision support, battle damage assessment and intelligence information (for land, sea, air, and space) for the Unified Combatant Commanders, Joint Task Force Commanders, and other users. Battle-space characterization applies the SBIRS High product to the immediate need of the warfighters.

SBIRS High is being developed in two increments. Increment 1, which achieved initial operational capability in December 2001, consolidated DSP and Attack and Launch Early Reporting to Theater ground stations into a single mission control station, which is currently operating using DSP data. Through spiral development, Increment 2 will develop the HEO sensors and first two GEO satellites and will upgrade Increment 1 hardware and software to operate and process data from the HEO and GEO elements. The remaining three GEO satellites are to be procured at some future date.

Since the SBIRS program's inception in 1996,it has been burdened by immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity, and other problems that have resulted in mounting cost overruns and delays. In addition, the program has been restructured several times. Most notably, in 1998, the SBIRS High Program Office had to restructure the program around an Air Force directive to delay the GEO satellite launches by 2 years in order to fund other DOD priorities. This contributed to program instability since the contractor had to stop and restart activities and devise interim solutions that would not otherwise have been required. In early 2001, there were growing cost and schedule variances and a related decrease in contractor management reserve funding. Primary drivers of these problems were technical issues with the HEO sensors and associated test failures.

On 17 December 1999, Lockheed Martin Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $531,117,229 (estimated) modification to a cost-plus-award-fee contract, F04701-95-C-0017-P00075, to provide for the restructure of the Space Based Infrared System High program to reflect deferral of the first SBIRS GEO (Geosynchronous) satellite launch from FY2002 to FY2004. This effort also incorporates the following changes into the SBIRS High contract: make all the Multi-Mission Mobile Processors physically and functionally identical and add S-band kits; develop and implement a launch strategy for the GEO space vehicles that allows use of two types of medium class Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles; provide capability for Technical Intelligence Real Time Operations, incorporate design changes to make the system comply with the Highly Elliptical Orbit Interface Control Document; develop a system simulation; and develop a Mission Control Station Backup. The SBIRS jointly defined mission capabilities will meet the nation's need for space-based missile warning, missile defense, battlespace characterization, and technical intelligence. Expected contract completion date was Dec. 31, 2008.

By April 2001 Northrop Grumman Corporation's Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector (ES3) had delivered the first qualification focal plane assembly (FPA) for integration in the U.S. Air Force's Space-Based Infrared Systems High (SBIRS High) program. The FPA is the primary infrared sensor for the SBIRS High system. It is the key component that allows SBIRS High to detect and track missile launches around the world. The FPA was delivered to Aerojet's production facility in Azusa, Calif., where it will be integrated into the overall payload for SBIRS High as it is prepared for the system integration and test phase in 2001.

A preliminary effort to capture a realistic estimate of total program costs conducted in the fall of 2001 suggested potential cost growth in excess of $2 billion, or a 70-percent program acquisition unit cost increase. A major defense acquisition program that incurs a unit cost growth of at least 25 percent in the acquisition program baseline triggers a statutory requirement that the Secretary of Defense certify to the Congress that four criteria have been met in order to continue the program -- a process known as Nunn-McCurdy.

In 2001 the Secretary of Air Force reported a Nunn McCurdy Unit Cost Breach (10 U.S.C. 2433) exceeding 25 percent to Congress. House Appropriations Committee report (House Report 107-298) cited scheduling, cost, and technology problems, including unanticipated software code growth, high number of discrepancy reports in ground mission software, unbudgeted payload redesign activities, notable schedule slippages.

In 2002 an Independent Review Team (IRT) was chartered by DOD to look at the reasons behind significant cost increases, and program management and execution problems affecting the program. Key root causes identified included: (1) the program was too immature to enter system design and development, (2) system requirements decomposition and flowdown were not well understood as the program evolved, and (3) there was a significant breakdown in execution management.

The IRT reported that in general, the complexity, schedule, and resources required to develop SBIRS were, in hindsight, misunderstood. This led to an immature understanding of how requirements translate into detailed engineering solutions. In addition, the requirements setting process was often ad hoc with many decisions being deferred to the contractor. While SBIRS-High adopted a more commercial approach to doing business within the defense related industry-the winning contractor assumed Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR) for the integrated architecture - TSPR was not properly understood or implemented on the SBIRS-High program. The way TSPR was initially applied circumvented traditional program management and integrated product team roles and responsibilities.

The IRT also observed that there had been far too much instability on the program since the contract award. In a 5-year timeframe, the program underwent four major replanning efforts and four program directors. The team acknowledged that corrective actions were being taken on the program, but noted that there were still significant risks within the program, including risks related to the schedule for first high-elliptical orbit launch and ground software.

In 2002 the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics certified SBIRS-High to Congress as essential to national security, no alternatives offering equal or greater military capability at same or lower costs existed, new cost estimates were reasonable, and management structure was adequate to manage and control unit costs.

In September 2002 Lockheed Martin's contract was increased by $2.1 billion to make up for delays and cost overruns. The contract increased to $4.1 billion from $2 billion, and was extended to June 2010 from 2007. The program's schedules have been delayed and costs have risen to almost $8 billion, twice the original estimate. At that time about 60 percent of the work was complete. The launch schedule had slipped from October-November 2004 to late 2006.

Based on the information submitted to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD (AT&L)), the SBIRS High program was officially certified on May 2, 2002, with the contingencies that the Air Force fully fund the program to the cost estimate developed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and to reestablish a baseline to OSD's schedule for the GEO satellites. USD (AT&L) also directed that a revised acquisition strategy and program baseline be approved by the end of August 2002.

The troubled Space Based Infrared System High program had suffered at least a $2 billion overrun during 2002. Under the December 2002 draft of program decision memorandum for the fiscal year 2004/2009 budget, the program would receive more than $1 billion. However, the document also proposed slipping the launch of the third, fourth and fifth satellites by about two years, further delaying the program already mired in financial disarray. The first GEO satellite (GEO 1) launch was replanned from September 2004 to October 2006 and the GEO 2 launch from September 2005 to October 2007. The procurement start of GEO satellites 3 through 5 was replanned from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2006. As of September 2002, the third GEO satellite was scheduled to launch in April 2008 and the fourth in April 2009.

Under the restructuring, DOD's contract with Lockheed Martin was modified from a cost-plus-award fee structure to a cost-plus-award-and-incentive fee structure. The objective of this change was to encourage timely delivery of accepted capabilities by providing the incentive of the full potential profit or fee for the contractor. At the time of the restructuring, the Air Force believed the modified contract established an executable schedule, a realistic set of requirements, and adequate funding, and addressed the underlying factors that led to the Nunn-McCurdy breach.

The modified contract removed Total Systems Performance Responsibility (TSPR) from the contractor, transferring more oversight back to the government because, according to the IRT, this concept was not properly understood or implemented within the SBIRS High program. This was evidenced by the numerous instances where the contractor was asked by program participants to accomplish work under TSPR guidelines without going through the appropriate management processes.

In 2004 the Air Force was considering acquiring a third and possibly a fourth HEO sensor and accelerating the procurement schedule for GEO satellites 3 through 5. The acquisition of additional HEO sensors comes as a result of delays with the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. If procured together, the estimated cost (including integration and testing) is $283 million for the third HEO sensor and $238 million for the fourth HEO sensor. The funding for these sensors had yet to be determined. The potential acceleration of the acquisition of GEO satellites 3 through 5 is similarly placing added pressures on the program. Plans to accelerate the acquisition of these GEO satellites is in response to a recent concern by the Senate Armed Services Committee[Footnote 18] that an Air Force decision to delay the acquisition of satellites 3 through 5 would create a 3-year gap between the launch of the second and third satellites.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Sunnyvale, CA, the SBIRS prime contractor, and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, Azusa, CA, the payload subcontractor, are developing SBIRS for the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles, CA Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.

A combination of two infrared sensors in highly elliptical orbit (HEO) and four satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) make up the nominal SBIRS constellation. To replace the first two GEO satellites on orbit by 2020 and 2021, the Air Force developed an acquisition strategy to procure two more SBIRS GEO satellites as derivatives—that is, of the same design aside from limited changes to accommodate obsolete parts—of the fourth GEO satellite being built. DOD approved the acquisition strategy in February 2012.

In September 2012, the Air Force awarded a contract for initial nonrecurring engineering and in June 2014 procured the production of the two satellites—GEO satellites 5 and 6—for a total target price of $2.4 billion. The basic SBIRS design is years old — the system has been in development for over 18 years, and some of its technology has already become obsolete. To address obsolescence issues in the next satellites, the program must replace old technologies with newer ones, a process that may be referred to as technology insertion or refresh.

The Air Force assessed options for replacing older technologies with newer ones—called technology insertion—in the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites 5 and 6. However, the assessment was limited in the number of options it could practically consider because of timing and minimal early investment in technology planning. The Air Force assessed the feasibility and cost of inserting new digital infrared focal plane technology—used to provide surveillance, tracking, and targeting information for national missile defense and other missions—in place of the current analog focal plane, either with or without changing the related electronics.

While technically feasible, neither option was deemed affordable or deliverable when needed. The Air Force estimated that inserting new focal plane technology would result in cost increases and schedule delays ranging from $424 million and 23 months to $859 million and 44 months. The assessment came too late to be useful for SBIRS GEO satellites 5 and 6. It occurred after the Air Force had approved the acquisition strategy and while negotiations were ongoing to procure production of the two satellites.

According to the Air Force, implementing changes at that stage would require contract modifications and renegotiations and incur additional cost and schedule growth. Limited prior investment in technology development and planning for insertion also limited the number of feasible options for adding new technology into SBIRS GEO satellites 5 and 6. Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition policy and guidance indicate that such planning is important throughout a system's life cycle. Air Force officials said early technology insertion planning was hampered in part by development challenges, test failures, and technical issues with the satellites, which took priority over research and development efforts.

The current approach to technology insertion for the system or satellites after SBIRS GEO satellites 5 and 6 could leave the program with similar challenges in the future. GAO's work on best practices has found that leading companies conduct strategic planning before technology development begins to help identify needs and technologies. Similarly, the MITRE Corporation—a not-for-profit research and development organization—has highlighted the importance of technology planning to provide guidance for evolving and maturing technologies to address future mission needs. Technology insertion decisions for the future system or satellites are not guided by such planning.

Instead, decisions are largely driven by the need to replace obsolete parts as issues arise. Current efforts—such as individual science and technology projects, including those in the Space Modernization Initiative—are limited by lack of direction, focusing on isolated technologies, and therefore are not set up to identify specific insertion points for a desired future system. In addition, the SBIRS program had little time to develop and demonstrate new technologies that could be inserted into a SBIRS follow-on system. The Air Force is working to develop a technology road map for the next system, according to officials. Given the lack of a clear vision for the path forward and the road map's early development status, it is too soon to determine whether it will be able to identify specific technology and obsolescence needs and insertion points in time for the next system.




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