By generating Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) the SBIRS can both aid in combat missions and gather intelligence in countries like Iraq, Libya, Yemen, North Korea, Syria and the Ukraine.The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) operates OBA.
OBA first began 24/7 operations in January. Col. Mike Guetlein, Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center Remote Sensing System director said at the time, "Since its inception, Overhead Persistent Infrared systems were tasked with supporting the missile warning and missile defense missions, and SBIRS has done an amazing job of continuing that mission…OBAC operations will provide near-real-time OPIR data exploitation products that provide situational awareness for a myriad of end users. This far exceeds the original intent of the SBIRS mission, and highlights the extraordinary things these systems and our Airmen can do." according to the Los Angeles Air Force Base website.
The infrared-sensors on SBIRS satellites are capable of discerning heat from large fires, small explosions and other kinds of large scale human activity, along with detecting intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The system was originally designed to pinpoint missile launches, determine what kind of missile was in use and its trajectory and possibly intercept the offending craft, if need be. In substance it is a cluster of high elliptical orbit and geostationary surveillance satellites that is operated by the 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colorado.
Defense Update quoted 460th Space Wing commander David Miller saying, "The SBIRS sensors are the most capable infrared that we have ever produced". There are two main sensors on each SBIRS satellite, one that constantly monitors smaller areas to give expedient warning of launch activity, and another that scans larger areas. Helping with the surveillance effort are legacy DSP satellites with the ability to scan the Earth every 10 seconds.
Miller remarked, "Our unique attribute is persistent global surveillance…the sensors provide an ‘unblinking eye’ that provide surveillance and warning of threats to the U.S. embassy and U.S. forces in Iraq."
Currently, the SBIRS network is made up of two payloads hosted on classified satellites in high-elliptical orbits (HEO) and two satellites in geosynchronous orbits (GEO). These satellites provide infrared signatures of global heat events.
According to a product page for SBIRS on Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor that developed the system, the satellites are designed "provide reliable, unambiguous, timely and accurate warning for theater and strategic missile launches to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, Combatant Commanders, and other users."