By Andrea Shalal
FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force has developed a new framework for assessing the resilience of its satellites that should allow it to start the acquisition process for more military communication and missile detection satellites this autumn, a senior official said at the Farnborough Airshow this week.
Lockheed Martin, Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp and Raytheon Co are keeping a close eye on these satellite programs, which could be worth billions of dollars and represent the first big new business opportunities in the military space market for some time.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about the need to protect their military satellites - which are critical to being able to identify targets, navigate, communicate and operate drones - given the growing use of electronic jammers and other threats.
Winston Beauchamp, the U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space, told Reuters that officials had developed a new set of criteria over the past year to help military leaders determine their options for more satellites.
The Air Force had previously looked at the options for follow-on satellites in both programs but until now had not included specific criteria for their resilience, or their ability to operate in the face of "hostile action or adverse conditions,” such as electromagnetic interference.
Beauchamp said senior Pentagon leaders last week endorsed the work done so far on the framework and further work planned before it is presented to Defense Secretary Ash Carter for approval in the fall.
Once that decision is made, the Air Force hopes to begin the long-awaited acquisition process to buy follow-on satellites for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system built by Lockheed Martin for protected satellite communications, and new missile warning satellites, also currently built by Lockheed under the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) program.
Work was already underway on the acquisition strategy for each of the two programs so they could begin shortly after the resilience decision this autumn, Beauchamp said.
The U.S. Air Force was also focused on increasing coordination and planning among allies for its space operations, as well as more multilateral wargaming and work on developing rules of engagement and joint concepts of operations.
"We are thinking more broadly about how to conduct operations in a joint manner," Beauchamp said. "In the past it was tacked on at the end. But we'd like to find a way to shift the planning to the left in a number of areas."
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)