Space Force prioritizes missile warning, tracking satellites in fiscal 2025 budget

Space-based missile warning and tracking capabilities represent a lion's share of the Space Force's R&D budget request for fiscal 2025.
Rendering of a L3Harris missile warning satellite (L3Harris image)

As it feels constraints from ongoing budget uncertainties, the Space Force is asking for $4.7 billion in fiscal 2025 to begin work to field a proliferated space-based architecture of missile warning and tracking satellites across multiple orbits.

The research and development funds — outlined in the service’s fiscal 2025 budget request published Monday — would be divided among several different efforts, including $2.1 billion for Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) programs and $2.6 billion for other missile warning and tracking capabilities.

The request is a lion’s share of the Space Force’s $18.7 billion proposed R&D budget for 2025. Speaking to reporters Friday ahead of the budget’s official release, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall noted that missile warning and tracking programs were one of the first they chose to invest in this year because many of them are already underway.

However, caps on defense spending in fiscal 2o25 enacted by the Fiscal Responsibility Act forced the Space Force to make some “hard choices” about its budget priorities, he said.


“We’re making good progress, I think, on the resiliency side of the equation and making our space assets more resilient,” Kendall said. “I’d like to move faster on that than we currently are.”

The different constellations of satellites are part of a larger effort to create a space architecture that is able to detect dim or high-speed objects, such as hypersonic missiles that can fly faster than Mach 5 and are highly maneuverable. To do so, the Pentagon is moving away from relying on a few expensive satellites stationed in higher orbital regimes and instead focusing on hundreds of disaggregated space vehicles in multiple orbits. 

The Space Force’s request for missile warning and tracking capabilities is less than the $4.9 billion the Space Force asked for in fiscal 2024. As of press time, Congress has not passed a 2024 spending bill.

That decrease can be explained, in part, by a proposal made by the Space Force in its fiscal 2024 request to drop one of the Next-Gen OPIR satellites from the service’s planned constellation, said Maj. Gen. Michael Greiner, deputy assistant secretary for budget at the Department of the Air Force. 

The service had originally planned to procure five Next-Gen OPIR satellites for its biggest missile warning program — three built by Lockheed Martin that would be stationed in geosynchronous orbit and two Northrop Grumman-made satellites designed for polar orbits. The Space Force, however, determined a third GEO space vehicle would not be needed due to other planned constellations in lower orbital regimes, according to budget documents.


“Last year, we pulled out the space vehicle number three, and so there’s some residual savings that we’re still seeing going into 2025,” Greiner told reporters Friday.

Overall, the $2.1 billion would go towards both the GEO and Polar satellites, as well as supporting ground infrastructure known as Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE). The ground segment includes the modernization of command-and-control, data processing and other capabilities.

The remaining $2.6 billion for missile warning and tracking R&D would be allocated towards programs that focus on launching satellites into medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and low-Earth orbit (LEO), according to Space Force budget documents. The Pentagon is increasingly interested in proliferating satellites into these lower orbits to increase coverage of the Earth and boost architecture resiliency.

The Space Force wants to move forward on Epochs 1 and 2 of the missile warning constellation for MEO — the Resilient Missile Warning and Missile Tracking – MEO (MEO MW/MT) program.

Money requested by the service would support work for integration and systems testing for the first nine space vehicles part of Epoch 1 that are scheduled to launch sometime in 2026 or 2027, Greiner said. Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems, Raytheon and L3Harris have all been contracted by Space Systems Command for the program. 


In addition, some of the money allocated will support early activities for the follow-on Epoch 2, according to the service.

The Space Development Agency is also developing a constellation of missile warning satellites for its Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA). The planned constellation of hundreds of satellites will be stationed in LEO and carry either missile warning and tracking sensors or data relay capabilities.

The Space Force’s R&D budget request is looking to support the upcoming launches for the Tranche 1 tracking layer satellites in fiscal 2025, according to Greiner.

Along with the significant allocation towards missile warning and tracking capabilities, the Space Force’s research and development request seeks to move other critical capabilities down the pipeline. For example, the service is asking for $1 billion for the Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) effort, which will eventually replace the legacy Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellites.

While its missile warning and tracking programs are off to good starts, Kendall emphasized that there were other areas of the Space Force’s research and development budget that didn’t get the allocations it needed — mainly due to spending caps imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act. As part of the deal made between President Joe Biden and Congress in 2023 to increase federal debt limit, defense spending would be capped at $895 billion for FY25. 


Kendall explained that because the Space Force’s budget is largely research and development, there isn’t much flexibility between funding the current readiness of the service and modernization efforts as there is with the Air Force. Therefore, some key capabilities — including counterspace and alternative positioning, navigation and timing — may be falling behind in their development, he said.

“China is advancing very quickly and they’re not stopping, so we really need as a priority to get to a next-generation capability. And you can’t even start to buy that until you’ve done the research and development,” Kendall said. “So, I’m trying to protect — in both the Air Force and Space Force to the extent that I can — the pace at which we’re doing research and development and the number of projects that we’re doing to get to that next-generation capability.”

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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