The importance of the Space Fence program has grown along with the realization that space is becoming a contested domain, Air Force program manager Dana Whalley said Monday. The Space Fence radar, which will be housed on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and is expected to reach initial operating capability in 2018, will be able to monitor foreign assets in space and, therefore, safeguard US assets, Whalley told reporters during a tour of Lockheed Martin’s operational test site in Moorestown, N.J. The system will generally project a S-band radar ‘fence’—about the length and width of the continental United States—outward into low-earth orbit and track objects, including satellites and debris, that pass through it. But project members say the array will also be used to create micro fences that can find objects in medium-earth orbits (MEO) and geosynchronous orbits (GEO). Whalley noted a lot of valuable US systems are in GEO orbits and said service officials have been “pleasantly surprised” with the Space Fence’s capability at the MEO and GEO altitudes. “What we’re going to do is provide the warfighter a much clearer picture of what’s going on in space,” Whalley said. (See also: Making Space More Military from the August issue of Air Force Magazine.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.