WASHINGTON: The Air Force in December will choose one of three competitors to build a revolutionary satellite ground system prototype for its next-generation missile warning satellites. The Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) system is seen as a first step towards the Air Force’s ambitious goal of a “common” command and control (C2) network for all its satellites.
“FORGE is planning to down select to a single vendor in December and the contract award to the down selected vendor will occur March 2020, ” Lt. Col. Kellie Brownlee, Future Ground Integration Branch material leader at Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told Breaking D yesterday.
FORGE will first provide ground control and data processing software for the current Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning satellite constellation. Later, because the systems uses an open software architecture, it will integrate the follow-on Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next-Gen OPIR) satellites as they come online after launch. FORGE will be operational in fiscal 2024, according to SMC, “with existing SBIRS space assets as well as integrating the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Missile Tracking System (MTS) space assets.”
The FORGE development project has three parts, according to SMC: “Command and Control (C2), Mission Data Processing (MDP), and Relay Ground Station (RGS).” Industry sources explained that the prototype package includes a processing platform for unclassified data; one to process classified data; and one or two to test for scalability and to allow third-party vendors to test their applications on the so-called ‘shadow system’ for testing.
“FORGE itself is essentially a framework to hang applications on to do the OPIR mission,” explained Todd Probert, vice president for C2, Space and Intelligence at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “It’s about building connective tissue.” Raytheon, he added, has been positioning itself as a “thought leader in the broad, new software economy,” for example working with the Air Force’s Kessel Run software innovation hub.
Raytheon is one of the three competitors to have submitted prototypes under the FORGE contest, along with Booz Allen Hamilton and BAE Systems.
The Next-Gen OPIR constellation will consist of five satellites: three in Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) and two in a polar orbit. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the GEO satellites, the first of which is known as Block 0 GEO; Northrop Grumman is the prime for the polar orbiting satellites. Raytheon was chosen in 2018 by Lockheed as one of two subcontractors for the advanced sensor suites on the GEO satellites, along with a team comprising Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace. The Air Force on Oct. 10 announced that the program had completed its system/ground and space vehicle preliminary design review on Sept. 27, putting it on track to launch the first GEO satellite in 2025.
In addition, as colleague Nathan Stout reported, the Next-Gen OPIR system is being designed to be able to link with future Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations for missile tracking being planned by the Space Development Agency (SDA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. A missile tracking layer that is capable of detecting hypersonic missiles as well as traditional ballistic missiles is one of SDA’s top priorities under new director Derek Tournear, and his boss Mike Griffin, Pentagon head of research and engineering.
FORGE is being run slightly differently than traditional DoD development programs, SMC explains in a June article, using an “agile program management methodology” — also known as “dev ops” — to rapidly move to a prototype that can be transitioned directly into operational use.
First, the three competitors were chosen from Space Enterprise Consortium, a group of some 325 companies, universities and research organizations that are eligible for the use of special Other Transaction Authorities for rapid contracting, Lt. Gen. John Thompson told reporters Aug. 18 at the annual Air Force Association meeting.
According to industry sources, the contractors worked closely with SMC to iterate the prototype FORGE software over the past year — echoing how Silicon Valley produces and fields software quickly and in sections. The down select is currently expected in early December. Under the spiral development process, a request for proposals will then be issued to the winner, who will in turn work with SMC to hone a proposal for how to build the ground data platform. Once the contract, currently estimated between $150 million and $180 million, is signed in March 2020, it is expected to take three to five years to build the FORGE prototype.
“Agile techniques are well suited to the FORGE program’s modernization activities. These activities are incrementally transitioning existing and Next Generation OPIR ground capabilities onto the Enterprise Ground Service (EGS) architecture. This will provide a suite of common Command and Control (C2) ground services for use by all Air Force space systems,” said Col. Tony Meeks, deputy director for Remote Sensing at SMC.
“Because of the way they’ve asked the competitors to build the platform, once we operationalize for the overhead persistent IR mission, or SBIRS as they used to call it, the Air Force believes that the architecture — that is open and scalable and extensible — can now be replicated for other satellite ground systems and other missions,” Chris Bogdan, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, told Breaking D.
The common C2 concept is not ‘one terminal to rule them all,’ said Bogdan, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant general. “They don’t want a single monolithic giant system that does everything for everybody,” Bogdan said. “One, it would be very difficult to build and two, too vulnerable.”
Rather, the idea is a suite of C2 and data management software based on a standardized platform that can be updated with new applications over time. Think about your iPhone, he said, and what it does everyday as you jump from your email to your weather app to Google Maps.
“What they really want is to get to the point that all their space ground systems and their data platforms, whether they be command and control systems or ingesting satellite data, are open and scalable and flexible — and eventually tied together,” Bogdan said.
According to an SMC statement, FORGE will use the open “architecture that is comprised of the “Enterprise Ground Services (EGS)” to provide a common way for all satellites for Telemetry, Tracking & Command functions, mission management, and ground control. The mission data processing software “leverages a Government Open Framework Architecture (OFA) as well as residual SBIRS Block 20 capability. This open architecture allows faster delivery of mission capabilities to the Warfighter and focuses on cyber resiliency and ease of extending to future assets.”
Cyber hardening embedded into the data processing system from the beginning is a critical requirement in the project, Bogdan said, noting that Booz Allen’s advantage in the competition is its long-standing expertise in cybersecurity. It is a founding member of the new Space Information and Analysis Sharing Center (Space-ISAC), a public-private partnership to figure out how to better cyber-secure satellites and ground stations that is being championed by the National Security Council.
FORGE and EGS are expected to be used by the Space Command’s new National Space Defense Center, that integrates National Reconnaissance Office and other Intelligence Community data with that of the Air Force, and the Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC), designed to bring the allies into the mix.
According to Air Force 2020 budget documents, “FORGE and EGS efforts will provide the flexibility and scalability to integrate new sensors and capabilities more efficiently in order to meet evolving warfighter needs.” The Air Force asked for $264.8 million in 2020 for FORGE.
The Air Force envisions the common satellite ground service as a central node in its multi-domain C2 strategy, and has hopes that it can be expanded to ingest data from air, land and sea sensors.
The FORGE system could be migrated to other government agencies, such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for their use in controlling their own satellites. NASA owns a number of climate monitoring satellites; while NOAA owns various weather-related satellites.