The Space Force is asking Congress for $832 million in extra funds for 2022, including $279 million in unspecified classified programs and $113 million in funds for new types of missions such as deep space surveillance and tactical ISR for the Air Force.

The unfunded priorities list, obtained by Breaking Defense, was released to Congress today — later than those of the other services which were released on the heels of last Friday’s defense budget drop. The Space Force’s official budget request totaled $17.4 billion: $11.3 billion (65%) in research, development, test and evaluation (RTD&E); $2.8 billion in procurement (16%); and $3.4 billion in operations and maintenance (19%). The big ticket items included $1.3 billion in procurement of five National Security Space Launch Vehicles and $2.4 billion in RTD&E for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) missile warning satellite program.

Space Force broke down the request into four macro categories:

  • Protect & Sustain What We Have Today: $225 million. This includes facilities mainteance and improvements, as well as $26 million to “Fix UEWR funding for Upgraded Early Warning Radar 24/7 Operations.”
  • Evolve To More Resilient Architectures: $63 million. Included is $50 million for communications security, “cyber defense platforms” and digitization efforts.
  • Develop A Warfighting Punch: $431 million. Despite the sexy name, this grouping largely covers training and education rather than offensive weaponry — at least as far as we can see. This is where the $279 million in “masked” classified efforts is slotted. (Hmmm.)
  • Grow New Missions: $113 million. The most intriguing of these are: a $70 million request to accelerate demonstration of cislunar (the area beyond the Earth’s orbit to that of the Moon) and deep space domain awareness satellites; and $28 million to expand DARPA’s Blackjack satellite payloads to include a radio frequency geolocation system for use by the Air Force.

Cislunar Push

Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has already launched several projects aimed at cislunar operations, including the Defense Deep Space Sentinel (D2S2) and the Cislunar Highway Patrol Satellite, or CHPS. In addition, the Space Force is considering launching a dedicated RTD&E project under the NSSL program to develop new technologies needed to launch and operate spacecraft in deep space. Indeed, the Space Force unfunded priorities list (UPL) includes $9 million for D2S2 and another “pathfinder” project at AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation that would orbit two satellites for tracking “objects of high interest” in Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO, where many military sats now are stationed.)

The Space Force unfunded priorities list (UPL) also slates $61 million to:

ccelerate and conduct risk reduction activities in support of an AFRL WARTECH program in Cislunar operations/Space Domain Awareness: multiple spacecraft hardware designs; space logistics and autonomy software developments; spacecraft RF, communications, PNT payloads; multiple spacecraft propulsion systems; and cyber hardening. Provide for equipment modernization to address obsolescence and upgraded capability expanding space domain awareness capability to address the Cislunar domain.

Tactical ISR

Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond revealed a previously classified program to develop radar satellites capable of tracking moving ground targets — a harbinger of the service’s controversial lobbying campaign to take on the job of procuring space-based ISR for the other services. The space-based ground moving target indication (GMTI) effort isn’t yet building an operational capability; rather it is a risk-reduction effort started in 2018 by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to help fill the gap left by the planned retirement of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

It is unclear if the UPL’s $28 million request to “Expand Blackjack Radio Frequency Payloads for Tactical Surveillance” is the same effort Raymond was referring to, but the likelihood is high as RF geolocation is a key methodology for GMTI. The UPL states:

Develop Blackjack radio frequency payload to support Air Combat Command (ACC) tactical surveillance, air domain awareness, and threat assessment. Funding supports completion of non‐recurring engineering, initial hardware delivery, data processing, and space vehicle integration required to demonstrate on‐orbit capability. If approved, funding would be applied to DARPA Blackjack contracts within 1‐2 months. Space‐to‐surface ISR capability demonstration would occur in FY22/23 and will inform investment decisions by the Air Force and Space Force. Initial prototypes would provide proof of concept as well as preliminary tactical ISR data for Air Combat Command and other requirements owners. ACC A2/8 and DARPA support this input and ready to execute upon approval.

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