By Amy Butler
The U.S. director of national intelligence (DNI) plans to sign a contract within months for the purchase of more than one classified electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) imaging satellite that will extend the life of the government’s existing overhead collection architecture, according to senior intelligence officials.
“We are not taking years to kick this thing off,” one official said April 7.
The timing is intended to avoid a potential gap in overhead collection capability; the implosion three years ago of the National Reconnaissance Office’s Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) strategy of buying a mix of radar and EO/IR satellites at reduced cost forced the government to buy older EO technology satellites from Lockheed Martin to avoid gaps. Boeing is widely thought to be continuing work on the radar portion of the architecture.
This new program, called the Next-Generation EO System, goes beyond that gapfiller effort. It has not been decided if the intelligence community plans to sole-source the work to Lockheed Martin — thought to have the most expertise in this area — or if a competition will take place. The industrial base capable of building these types of satellites is “narrow and very thin,” the official says.
DNI Dennis Blair says the government is “prudently evolving government-owned satellite designs.” This is a clear effort to distinguish this program, which is described as an evolution from today’s satellites, against the leaps in technologies sought and left unfulfilled with FIA.
Building more of the satellites in orbit today was not an option because some of the parts needed for them are no longer available. In doing the redesign to address these obsolescent parts, it is possible that performance gains will be realized, the intel official says.
Launch dates for the satellites are classified and the orbital parameters have not yet been set.
In addition to buying high-end classified satellites, the Pentagon and intelligence community also plan to extend purchases of commercial imagery from GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. The two U.S. companies operate their own remote sensing satellites and provide imagery products to the government. That strategy still is being formed, so business prospects are undetermined. This effort will be led by the Defense Department and its National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Blair announced the strategy after receiving approval April 6 from President Barack Obama.