On the Horizon

The Air Force has tweaked its long-term strategy to develop a successor capability to its Space Based Infrared System early warning satellites. Gone is the idea of pursuing an Alternative Infrared Satellite System that could be available for launch by Fiscal 2015 if USAF chose not to build all of the possible SBIRS satellites. In its place is the Third-Generation Infrared Surveillance program, dubbed 3GIRS that the Air Force announced as part of its 2009 budget proposal on Feb. 4. Building upon the progress in wide-field-of-view technology made under AIRSS, the Air Force intends to mature staring focal plane arrays so that it is in the position to decide early next decade whether to build the first 3GIRS satellite—or perhaps just sensor payloads for other host spacecraft—for delivery in 2016 and launch in Fiscal 2019, according to USAF budget documents. “Everybody acknowledges we need something for life after SBIRS,” an Air Force official said during a budget background briefing to reporters. “So we took the work that had been going on at the focal plane array level … and said that will be the foundation for our third-generation system. The first generation was DSP [Defense Support Program], the second generation was SBIRS, and this will be the third generation.” (For more on 3GIRS and SBIRS read The View from Above)