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How Screwed Up Is Milspace?

This screwed up:

After trying unsuccessfully for years to build its own radar satellite, the Pentagon is now turning to its allies for help and has been presented with a plan that would see it buy a clone of Canada's highly successful Radarsat-2 spacecraft.

The U.S. Defence Department asked for and received information this week from a number of foreign satellite consortiums on how they could help the Pentagon meet its surveillance needs for the future.

Isn't there anybody here who knows how to play this game?


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Dennis Wingo wrote:

Yep, but the Pentagon is so wedded to its obsolete way of doing business that they will screw up this procurement as well. The operative term is "modified". It is the system that is broke.

Speaking of things that are screwed up, there's your RSS feed. You can call me mentally deficient, but I just can't keep up with weblogs without a feed. The one linked at the top of the page hasn't been updated since May. I have been meaning to mention it, but it just didn't come up and I figured I couldn't be the only one who used it. But perhaps that presumption was in error.

Doug Jones wrote:

Thee are general officers in the USAF that are aware of the problem and are working on long term solutions. Things might improve in coming years, but it certainly will take time, it took a long time for things to decay to this point, too.

K wrote:

I work at a company which builds MILspace satellites.

First, 20 years ago, you had extremely bright people who when not working on a program were doing real IR&D instead. When they were needed to design and build an actual system, they had the tools and the knowhow to do the job correctly and do what they said they would in the proposal. In the last 10 years, I haven't seen anyone working serious IR&D, relying instead on the remnants of the old days in the form of desicated gurus or minor league consultants. As none of these guys have worked IR&D for 10 years either, it's all 90s tech or guesswork.

Second, the companies that I am familiar with have outsourced the box construction to small companies and dismantled their own electronics and electronics research divisions. Small companies tend to do things like make big mistakes and then threaten to go out of business unless the main contractors cough up more bucks.

Larry J wrote:

I have some familiarity with the radar satellite problems. You had two powerful and competing organizations insisting on incompatable requirements. NRO wanted to use the satellites for high resolution imaging. The Air Force wanted to use them for Ground Moving Target Indications (GMTI). Those are two different things. Trying to meet both sets of requirements with a single system drove up the costs radically until the whole program was canceled. I've seen it happen with other systems (such as the plan to convert B-52s into standoff jammers - it got goldplated to death).

Until the requirements issues are settled, the programs are doomed to failure.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Yes, AOG, my RSS feed is broken. There is no solution to this except to hire a Moveable Type guru to figure out why, or to move to Wordpress, neither of which I can afford to do right now, in money or time.

ken anthony wrote:

Forgive my ignorance Larry,

But isn't the only difference between MTI and regular imaging the software?

I wouldn't think it would be that difficult for the same hardware to operate in both modes (there ya go, I could be a Pentagon General... just ask Col. Boyd.)

Just wondering. I do agree that putting too many incompatible requirements does seem to be a weakness of large [govt] institutions.

I was also wondering about the disadvantages of an active system verses a passive optical system.

Rand, I wish I could recommend bustablog that I'm using, it's free but you would probably not like the tradeoffs (it is vastly superior to blogger though.)

They seem to be having some teething problems (it's been offline a few times.) It has RSS feeds but I don't know how to test it (I could stop being lazy and do some research.) I've never used RSS feeds so I don't know much about it.

tom wrote:

Larry J,
let me heartily second your experience directly. I and 9 other students in the Space Systems curriculum at NPS had to do a 6-month project on a Space Radar system. We were given the direction to consider GMTI, MMTI, and ISR, and after a lot of sweat, came to that exact conclusion about space radar(basically that MTI and ISR are mutually exclusive capabilities on the same platform from space, and it should only occur to make them both work from perhaps an air platform). We briefed our conclusion to three stars (2 navy one AF), including a recommendation that including both requirements exponentially increases the total cost of a single satellite, thereby reducing number of platforms, lengthening revisit, etc.

What did we hear back? "well if you only do one (MTI or ISR) you're only meeting half the requirement. that makes it too expensive..."

hmm.. needless to say, I think our group's actual end conclusion is that the requirements process is a big crock of shit.

Joe Triscari wrote:


While it might seem at a high level that the hardware is doing the same thing and you only need a software change to get the different missions, in practice different missions end up levying different constraints on the hardware. I honestly don't have specific examples for SAR vs GMTI but a simple contrived example would be that the missions might have different fields of view so we need some way to get a different physical antenna size.

Other seemingly small changes might lead to big changes in how data is interpreted so that analysts that have been doing things one way for years might have to be retrained (big expense). I can easily imagine that over the years people have developed hardware tweaks for one mission that create problems for the other.

Active vs passive: With SAR, I can see through clouds, at night, etc... Also with radio imaging you get very different reflective phenomenology.

On a broader note of agreement with Larry, I think the idea of building general hardware and letting software sort out the data has proved to be so appealing that sometimes the actual missions are almost forgotten.

The idea of basic research leading to final solutions has gotten a little out of control. There's not enough engineering going on.

Larry J wrote:

I never worked on Space Based Radar but work closely with people who worked on it for years. It's my (admittedly limited) understanding that MTI requires a higher orbit so you can achieve persistent observations, while radar imaging benefits from a lower orbit to get better resolution. If you go with the lower orbit, MTI would require many more satellites in the constellation, driving up the costs. Likewise, if you go with the higher orbits, getting the desired imaging resolution requires more expensive equipment on the satellites. Basically, you have conflicting requirements.

Perhaps it would be possible to develop essentially common hardware and software and launch vehicles into two orbits, a low orbit constellation for imaging and a higher orbit constellation for MTI. However, that also isn't cheap.

Some things driving up the cost of MilSpace are outside of the military's control. I read on AvWeek last week that the cost of the Advanced EHF satcom system jumped over $2 billion because Congress ordered the military to buy a 4th satellite after the supply chain for the first 3 was shut down. Congress did this because of concerns about T-Sat.

ken anthony wrote:

Thank you Joe, I understood the advantage of radar seeing at night and through clouds. I was just wondering about it covert abilities since it would seem to be announcing it's presence any time it was used.

Unless you're the NY Times, I would think you don't always want the enemy to know you're watching.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 13, 2008 12:30 PM.

Where's The Smart Money? was the previous entry in this blog.

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