The Air Force has accepted for operations the second space based infrared system on-orbit payload, moving that payload one step closer to full operational status later this year, according to lead contractor Lockheed Martin. In a release July 24, the company said this payload, dubbed HEO-2, “has been exceeding expectations” during the test regimen necessary for it to be cleared for operations to warn of ballistic missile launches as part of the US network of early warning satellites. The final step is for US Strategic Command to formally certify HEO-2 for operations. This milestone is expected in August, said Lockheed. “HEO performance continues to be spectacular,” said Col. Roger Teague, commander of the Air Force’s SBIRS Wing. USAF’s acceptance came after an operational utility evaluation and trial period, during which live HEO-2 data was injected into operational missile warning networks, said Lockheed. HEO-2 will join HEO-1, which was cleared for operations last December.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.