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U.S. Air Force sees Space Fence choice soon: Lockheed or Raytheon

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, May 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday said it is very close to choosing Lockheed Martin Corp or Raytheon Co to build a new ground-based radar to track satellites and other objects in space, a deal analysts value at nearly $2 billion.

"It's imminent," Brigadier General Roger Teague, director of strategic plans, programs and analyses for Air Force Space Command, said in n interview after a panel session at a space conference hosted by the Space Foundation.

U.S. military officials have underscored the importance of the Space Fence program, given the growing number of countries operating satellites in space and development of anti-satellite weapons, as well as the huge amount of debris in orbit.

The new program will allow the Air Force to sharply increase its ability to track "space junk" and other smaller objects in space. Currently the Air Force tracks about 23,000 of an estimated 500,000 objects in space, but the new program would allow it to track hundreds of thousands of additional objects.

Teague said the new radar system would give the Air Force far greater insight into what is going on in low earth orbit and over the southern hemisphere.

Current plans call for the new system to be based on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu, and to start operating in September 2018.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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