Air Force space officials have cleared the first space based infrared system sensor payload, HEO-1, and its ground element for operational service after an extensive period of on-orbit evaluations. “This is a great moment for the SBIRS program,” said Col. Roger Teague, commander of the Space Based Infrared Systems Wing at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., in an Air Force Space Command release Nov. 12. He added, “Achievement of this milestone represents many years of hard work by space operators, acquirers, and testers alike.” HEO-1 resides in highly elliptical orbit on a classified intelligence satellite. It provides “an unprecedented infrared view of the battlefield” over the existing constellation of defense support program early warning satellites, including “real-time data on missiles, aircraft, and other events,” AFSPC said. During the trials prior to AFSPC’s operational acceptance, live HEO-1 data were, for the first time, injected into warfighter operational networks. US Strategic Command still needs to certify the operational readiness of HEO-1 and its ground component, which is expected later this year. HEO-2, the second SBIRS payload on orbit, passed on-orbit checks this summer and is expected to begin operations early next year.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.