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Space Development Agency
providing capability to warfighters

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Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, establish an Internet connection using a Tampa Microwave satellite dish during a communications exercise at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, April 19, 2023. © Photo by: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bridgette Rodriguez

The development goal of the Defense Department's Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, is to connect sensors to shooters to targets, as well as communications connecting Link 16 radios across the military services globally.

For JADC2 to work, a system of satellites is needed. Derek M. Tournear, director of the Space Development Agency, or SDA, who is tasked in partnership with industry, with getting those satellites in orbit, spoke virtually at a National Security Space Association event in December.

SDA has two capabilities it promises to deliver to warfighters, he said. The first is beyond line-of-sight targeting for moving targets, he said. For example, if there's a hostile ship or mobile missile launcher, it needs to be detected and tracked and a shooter needs to calculate a fire-control solution. It all needs to happen in near real time from space.

The second capability is very similar to that of the first capability, but the targets are different. Instead of mobile missile launchers or ships, an adversary's hypersonic glide vehicle or advanced missile needs to be detected in flight and tracked, and a fire-control solution calculated and executed in near-real time, Tournear said.

SDA is building these capabilities on two main pillars, he said. Pillar one is proliferation. "We're not going to do this with a handful of very exquisite satellites. We're going to do this with hundreds and hundreds of satellites that are in a low Earth orbit. Now a lot of people are starting to accept that that is the future of space and space capabilities - proliferation in low Earth orbit," he said.

"Not only are we doing that, but the commercial industry, which we're tailing off of, is clearly starting to build up more and more proliferation in low Earth orbit," Tournear added.

Pillar two is spiral development. To get those capabilities as quickly as possible, it's not going to happen by waiting 15 years to reach full capability, he said.

Spiral development, he explained, is buying and fielding satellites about every year or two in tranches, planned from now to the end of this decade. Every year, there should be commercial, state-of-the-art technological advances, called spiral development, so that satellites in follow-on tranches will field even better capability.

This year is the first tranche, called tranche 0. In April, SDA successfully put 10 satellites in orbit. In September, SDA delivered an additional 13 satellites, with more to follow soon. In November, SDA successfully completed the demonstration of the first-ever Link 16 network entry connection from low Earth orbit to ground, he said.

Tranche 0 doesn't have enough satellites yet to be used in a combat setting, but troops can use this limited capability in demonstrations, training and exercises, he said.

Tranche 1, slated for September 2024, will enable initial warfighting capability with up to 161 satellites operational, he said.

Tranche 2 launches will begin in 2026, and tranche 3 will launch in September 2028, and tranche 4 in 2030, with ever-increasing capability for warfighters such as sustained capability and eventual autonomous operations by tranche 4, he said.

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