Space force

Space Force Says DARC Software On Track, Following GAO Concerns

Advanced Deep Space Radar Capability (Graphic: Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON: The Space Force says the risks in its effort to develop software for a new radar to monitor deep space are actually diminishing — about six months after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns that he was “immature” and potentially a source of program delay.

Ground-based Advanced Deep Space Radar (DARC) capability is being developed to improve the service’s ability to track satellites and hazardous space junk in geosynchronous orbit (GEO, at the outer edge of Earth orbit), including in bright daytime when satellites usually evade radar. The end goal is three sites – one in the Indo-Pacific, one in Europe and one in the United States.

The Space Force’s acquisition arm, Space Systems Command (SSC), successfully demonstrated a small-scale version of the DARC last December at White Sands Missile Field in New Mexico. Northrop Grumman won a $341 million contract in February to develop the first site in the Indo-Pacific, through the Space Enterprise Consortium, which is operated by the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL). The contract vehicle is another mid-level acquisition transaction authority (MTA), with the company expected to complete delivery by September 2025.

The GAO reviewed the DARC in its annual assessment of the Department of Defense acquisition programs, released last week, and took a critical lens on some facets. This includes that the program “has not completed other key activities to establish a strong business case, such as formal technology and schedule risk assessments,” the GAO report said.

In particular, the GAO was concerned about the risks associated with the planned 2025 program delivery of the first of three planned radar sites due to software development issues, which the report says have already encountered difficulties, including an increase costs. But SSC and Northrop Grumman told Breaking Defense it was fine.

“Software development efforts are on track and have seen no cost increases. In fact, more software reuse from other programs in the field is being applied to Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) than originally anticipated, so the risk associated with software development has decreased,” said a carrier. word of SSC in an e-mail.

Kevin Giammo, Space Director of Northrop Grumman Space System’s Environmental Surveillance and Intelligence Business Unit, confirmed, “Our software development efforts are on track, including our activities to adapt existing radar and algorithmic software from existing systems.

The GAO report also expressed concern “Space Force intends to begin construction of Sites 2 and 3 before the completion of Site 1 and the expected achievement of technology maturity. Initiate construction of follow-up sites before demonstrating the basic capabilities associated with Site 1 compounds the existing risks.”

The SSC spokesperson, however, stressed the need to move quickly on the DARC prototype effort.

DARC Demonstration at White Sands Missile Base

SSC demonstrated a small-scale version of the DARC at the White Sands Missile Field in New Mexico last December. (Photo: Space Systems Command)

“The threat requires us to quickly build the full DARC system. The successful demonstration of DARC technology built at White Sands Missile Range and demonstrated in the summer of 2021 was a significant achievement in demonstrating this capability, reducing technical risk to the program, and validating government reference architecture (GRA) which is used to build the three DARC sites,” the spokesperson wrote.

Space Force requested nearly $231 million in its fiscal year 2023 budget request for the program. The department’s budget justification documents, or j-books, indicate that DARC Site 1 will cost a total of $866.3 million, including research and development and the purchase of prototypes, but commissioning keep in mind that the site is not really fully funded over the next five years. Years Defense Program (FYDP).

This is potentially a problem down the road for DARC, as according to a spokesperson for the Secretary of Defense’s office, DoD policy is that MTAs should be fully funded through the FYDP – with the acquisition of space and budgeting overseen by the Department of Defense. Aviation.

“The Department of the Air Force is evaluating all options to address MTA program funding gaps, including additional funding in a future budget request, performance exchanges based on technical maturity, or transition to alternative paths,” the j-books state.

However, the SSC spokesperson appeared to refute the service’s budget language.

“DARC Site 1 is a rapid prototype under MTA and provides an operational capability to leave behind once commissioned. The DARC 1 site is fully funded and the acquisition strategy is still being determined for the DARC 2 and 3 sites.”

Finally, the GAO report raised some concern that the Space Force’s ongoing negotiations with partner nations for the siting of DARC facilities may not be completed in time to meet the current schedule. However, the SSC spokesperson said that was not a problem.

“There is great commitment from our partners in Europe and the Pacific who see the need and urgency for a DARC capability. Negotiations are on track to finalize the agreement by April 2023” , the spokesperson wrote.