Space Development Agency Works Closely With Army, Its Biggest Customer

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 05, 2020) -- With the 2019 creation of the Space Force, U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency, the Defense Department has a lot riding on space. But the agency's big focus now is on taking care of its biggest customer -- the Army -- the Space Development Agency's director said.

"The largest user of national security space is the Army," Derek Tournear said during a June 4 teleconference hosted by the Aviation Week media company. "We view the Army as our closest partner. They're the ones, actually, that I work with most closely every day."

Tournear said his agency is responsible for orchestrating development of the whole national defense space architecture, which eventually will include a "mesh network" of hundreds of optically interconnected satellites in orbit that make up its "transport" layer.

"That layer is what communicates directly with weapon system via the tactical data link," he explained. "It also receives data from other sensing layers that are able to do those other missions."

The architecture involves six additional layers, he said: tracking, custody, deterrence, navigation, battle management and support layers. Tournear said the SDA's efforts in developing the national space defense architecture is focused on two priorities that are meant to provide space-based capabilities to the warfighter.

"The first one is beyond line-of-sight targeting for mobile targets -- for time sensitive targets," he said.

There, he said, the agency wants to find ground and maritime targets that are moving, detect them, fuse data together, create a fire control solution and then give that fire control solution directly from space to a weapon system.

"We would use Link-16 as our tactical data link to be able to do that," he said. "So you detect it, fuse data, send that data fire control solution directly down, all on orbit."

The second priority is to do something similar to the first priority, but with advanced missile threats.

"These are your hypersonic glide vehicles or any kind of next-generation advanced missiles," he said. "We would want to be able to detect that, come up with a fire controls track that we could send down directly to a weapon system to be able to engage on remote that way."

The Army will be a big beneficiary of the SDA's efforts, Tournear said.

"The Army has their Titan program," he said. "At the brigade level, they want to be able to have a ground system that can communicate with satellites to be able to get mission data directly down from those satellites to help them do what we're calling the custody mission, that beyond-line-of-sight targeting."

The SDA is working closely with the Army to make sure the Titan system will work well with whatever the SDA develops as part of the national defense space architecture, Tournear said.

"We will use that system, that box, to be able to get our data from transport down there, down to Titan, so then Titan can rebroadcast that out via UHF or whatever other means they would like to be able to get it directly to the front line," he said. "Our main way that we're going to get the data from our transport satellites to weapon systems is via this Link-16 ... link."

While not all weapons systems have Link-16, he said, Titan will be able to receive data from the SDA's mesh network of satellites and then send it out to anybody who needs it, Tournear said.

"Titan can rebroadcast that out to actually the edge of the sphere -- folks that just might have a UHF or an HF [high frequency] radio, something like that," he said. We're working very closely with them to ensure that the Titan plugs and plays directly with our transport satellites."

He also said the agency is working closely with the Navy to ensure similar kinds of compatibility when SDA's satellite network comes online.

"They have some programs that are doing similar things," he said. "But really, the Army is the one leading the charge on that."

Tournear also said one aspect of development for the national defense space architecture is to not have to have users make use of special terminals to get access to what the system provides. Instead, he said, the system should work with the gear warfighters are already using.

"User terminals are always a long pole, and typically they cause a lot more cost than what people really focus on," Tournear said. "Our plan is to never require any special user terminals. In fact, our plan is and has always been [that] the baseline is to get our data down via existing tactical data links ... I want to be able to get our data down and the community's data that is provided to transport, directly to systems that are already fielded with no modification."