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High Resolution Low SWaP Attritable EO/IR Sensors for Stratospheric Operations


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Integrated Sensing and Cyber; Emerging Threat Reduction; Integrated Network System-of-Systems


OBJECTIVE: The objective of this topic is to develop a high resolution, low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP), attritable, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) sensor capable of detecting, tracking, and identifying targets with a National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale (NIIRS) value of 4 or higher from platforms operating in the stratosphere.


DESCRIPTION: The Air Force (AF) is currently pursuing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors to support high altitude, sustained flight for long periods (months) within designated operational airspace between 50,000-75,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) that could participate in AF or Joint exercises, demonstrations, and/or test events in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2026-2030 time frame. Current AF efforts are focused on high Technology Readiness Level (TRL) commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions. There is a near-term need to improve upon current capabilities and develop high resolution, low SWaP, attritable, EO/IR sensors that are capable of detecting, tracking, and identifying targets while operating in the stratosphere. These applications would directly support AF Operational Imperative 3 [1] by both detecting critical targets and distinguishing targets from decoys.


Sensor Capabilities:

  • All sensors should have the capability to be operational within the 50,000 – 75,000 feet altitude band.
  • All sensors should be prepared to supply their own heating or cooling solution to withstand extreme temperature conditions within the above altitude band.
  • All sensors should be low power (less than 100 W continuous 500 W instantaneous)
  • All sensors must be capable of being networked and interfacing with current Department of Defense (DoD) data transmission/data transfer systems (Datalinks including Line of Sight (LOS) and Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS).
  • Sensor must be able to detect and identify targets with a NIIRS value of 4 or higher and a Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) not to exceed 1 meter at the stated operating range.
  • Total system weight is not to exceed 80 lbs.
  • Some jitter is expected. Payloads requiring pointing will need to provide their own gimballing or steering solution.
  • Total system needs to fit withing a 14 (3.5 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft) cubic foot volume.
  • Sensor systems need to be able to operate over an area of interest at altitude for several months at a time.
  • Sensors are expected to be able to support both day/night operations.


Previous SBIR projects have pushed the envelope or this technology but there is an urgent need to minimize the power required to operate sensors within the given altitude band. Previous efforts have focused on larger power requirements; additional work needs to be completed to fit within the power constraints of the problem set [2].


PHASE I: As this is a Direct-to-Phase-II (D2P2) topic, no Phase I awards will be made as a result of this topic. To qualify for this D2P2 topic, the Government expects the applicant(s) to demonstrate feasibility by means of a prior “Phase I-type” effort that does not constitute work undertaken as part of a prior or ongoing SBIR/STTR funding agreement. This includes determining, insofar as possible, the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of ideas appearing to have commercial potential. It must have validated the product-market fit between the proposed solution and a potential AF stakeholder. The applicant should have defined a clear, immediately actionable plan with the proposed solution and the AF customer. The feasibility study should have:

  • Identified the prime potential Department of the AF end user(s) for the non-Defense commercial offering to solve the AF need, i.e., how it has been modified;
  • Described integration cost and feasibility with current mission-specific products;
  • Described if/how the demonstration can be used by other DoD or Governmental customers.


PHASE II: Under the Phase II effort, the awardee(s) shall sufficiently develop a ruggedized ground-based EO/IR sensor system based off the defined requirements listed in the topic description. The sensor system should be capable of being tested on a high-altitude attritable system if testing opportunities become available.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Adapt existing design to meet SWaP requirements of multiple attritable platforms by incorporating Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA)[3] and Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) [4] standards, exact platform is to-be-determined but should be roughly what is outlined in the description. Ruggedize design for flight environment up to 75kft and conduct flight testing. Offeror shall also provide a plan for upgrading the solution to include Anti-Tamper (AT) and cybersecurity capabilities, as agreed upon between the Offeror and the AF customer.



  1. Department of the Air Force Operational Imperative ( *Stratollites for Persistent ISR | (
  2. AFMC-Guidebook-for-Implementing-MOSA-in-Weapon-Systems_V2.0_Distro_A.pdf (
  3. Reference Implementation Guide for the SOSA™ Technical Standard (;


KEYWORDS: Stratosphere; SWaP; EO/IR; High Altitude; Attritable; Sensor

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