WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force wants to take on a new mission — tracking ground targets with space-based sensors — and the service expects to wrap up a review and requesting funding for the effort in fiscal 2024, according to the service’s top official.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said last February the service was “thinking through” its role in the tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission and in May, speaking at the annual McAleese Conference, he revealed a previously classified effort to develop a space-based ground moving target indicator, or GMTI, capability.

“There’s a role here for the Space Force in tactical level ISR,” he said at the time. “I really believe that this is an area that we’ll begin to migrate to because we can do it, and we can do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank and is focused on our joint and coalition partners.”

Now, Raymond said the Space Force expects to complete a review of those capabilities this spring and request funding for the effort in fiscal 2024.

Raymond said during a Mitchell Institute event Tuesday the service’s force design hub — the Space Warfighting Analysis Center — has been working with the intelligence community and across the Defense Department to study options for a future space-based GMTI program that is complementary to what other agencies provide.

“We don’t want to duplicate,” Raymond said. “We don’t want to spend $1 wasted on doing something that we don’t have to if somebody else is already doing it. We’ve done that before.”

The National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have traditionally taken the lead on space-based intelligence gathering and image processing but growing demand for tactical ISR products coupled with reduced satellite production and launch costs have shifted that paradigm.

The Army is also developing a Tactical Space Layer to provide users on the ground with beyond-line-of-sight targeting information and the Space Development Agency is building a transport layer based in low Earth orbit that would serve as a mesh network, connecting commercial imaging satellites with the Tactical Space Layer.

Raymond didn’t offer details on what the study has revealed about the Space Force’s role in the mission, noting that the SWAC team would wrap up its work by late this spring.

Meanwhile, lawmakers want to limit how much money the Pentagon can spend on GMTI efforts until the department completes a program-by-program review of all “established and planned” GMTI initiatives, according to language in a joint explanatory statement that accompanied the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

Beyond GMTI, Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson is leading a more holistic review of cross-domain ISR capabilities and requirements to identify possible gaps. Thompson will then work with the intelligence community “to figure out the best way to address those requirements that are left uncovered,” Raymond said.

Work to flesh out the service’s future architecture will be a major focus for the Space Force in the coming year, Raymond said, and much of that effort will focus on making constellations more resilient.

“We have got to shift our space architecture, if you will, from a handful of exquisite capabilities that are very hard to defend to a more robust, more resilient architecture,” he said.

Much of the design work will fall under the purview of the SWAC, which the Space Force created last year to lead architecture analysis and reviews across a range of mission areas. The SWAC completed its first review in the fall of the missile warning and tracking architecture and will focus next on space data transport as well as the ongoing GMTI analysis.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.

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