The US Air Force (USAF) has revealed plans to award two sole-source contracts for the next-generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) programme.

The USAF is currently implementing rapid procurement authorities with an aim to maintain space superiority over its adversaries and is targeting the first next-generation OPIR launch in 2023.

USAF Secretary Heather Wilson said: “As we develop these new systems, speed matters. The next-generation missile warning satellite will be a pace-setter.”

The OPIR is designed to replace the currently used Space-Based Infrared System and is expected to deliver enhanced missile warning capabilities that are more survivable against emerging threats.

USAF Acquisition, Technology and Logistics assistant secretary Dr Will Roper said: “The next-generation missile warning will be an important pace-setter for learning to speed up traditional acquisitions.

“Targeting five years instead of nine years allows us to pick up the pace to defend the nation.”

“This is more than just building a prototype or a low-cost system. This is an important system for the nation, and to ‘go for the gold’ by targeting five years instead of nine years allows us to pick up the pace to defend the nation.”

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Of the two agreements, the first contract will be awarded to Lockheed Martin Space, which, under the terms of the deal, will be responsible for defining requirements, creating the initial design, as well as identifying and procuring flight hardware for a satellite to operate in geosynchronous orbit.

The second of the two contracts will be sole-sourced to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in order to define polar system requirements.

The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, serves as the acquisition programme office.