The U.S. Air Force has awarded a nearly $3 billion contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. for the development of three next-generation missile warning satellites.
The contract, not to exceed $2.9 billion, allows Lockheed to conduct analysis, "design/development, hardware procurement, early manufacturing, and risk reduction efforts" leading to a system critical design review, the service said in a statement Tuesday.
The satellites, known as Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Satellites (Next-Gen OPIR), are intended to succeed the current Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS.
"As we develop these new systems, speed matters," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement. "We are focused on providing a missile warning capability survivable in a contested environment by the mid-2020s."
The Air Force is looking to aggressively speed up acquisition of the satellites, meant to have increased missile detection capabilities, as adversaries such as Russia and China make advances in their own space-based weapons systems.
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Wilson told audiences at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in April that the service would use prototyping and experimentation to speed up the timeline for Next-Gen OPIR. In February, the Air Force told lawmakers it planned to suspend procurement of Lockheed's SBIRS next vehicle installment, vehicles 7 and 8, in favor of the advanced, cyber-hardened Next-Gen OPIR, according to Space News.
The service said the latest award remains an undefinitized contract to allow Lockheed to begin work "before reaching a final settlement on contract terms and conditions." The final price and negotiated terms will be met within 180 days of the award, the release said.
The service currently operates 77 satellites "vital to national security that provide communications, command and control, missile warning, nuclear detonation detection, weather and GPS for the world," it said.
The award announcement marks the second Air Force contract for Lockheed this week.
The service on Monday awarded the company a contract -- not to exceed $480 million -- to begin designing a second hypersonic weapon.