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USAF Fast-Tracking OPIR Program

The USAF is accelerated a replacement program for the SBIRS with two sole-source contracts to major defense contractors.

The U.S. Air Force announced its intention to award two sole-source contracts for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) program, part of an effort to shave four years from the current procurement process for the program. The USAF is targeting the first Next-Gen OPIR launch for 2023. The Next-Gen OPIR satellite system will succeed the current Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) with improved missile-warning capabilities and better capability to survive threats (see figure).

“As we develop these new systems, speed matters,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “The next generation missile warning satellite will be a pace-setter.” The first contract will be with Lockheed Martin Space to define requirements, create the initial design, and identify and procure flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit. The second contract will be to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems to define polar system requirements.

The Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) is the USAF’s current means of providing early warning of missile launches. (Courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.)

“The next-generation missile warning will be an important pace-setter for learning to speed up traditional acquisitions,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “This is more than just building a prototype or a low-cost system…This is an important system for the nation, and to ‘go for the gold’ by targeting five years instead of nine years allows us to pick up the pace to defend the nation.”

The USAF currently operates 77 satellites vital to national security, providing such functions as communications, missile warning, GPS, and detection of nuclear detonations around the world.

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