The US Defense Department will buy and operate one or two commercial imagery satellites and plans to design and build another with more sophisticated spying capabilities.
An Associated Press report, quoting government and private industry officials, also said the satellites could spy on enemy troop movements, spot construction at suspected nuclear sites and alert commanders to militant training camps.
The Broad Area Space-Based Imagery Collector satellite system, or BASIC, will cost between â‚¬1.26 billion (US$2 billion) and â‚¬2.5 billion (US$4 billion), the report said.
It would add to the secret constellation of satellites that now circle the Earth, producing still images that are pieced together into one large mosaic.
A single satellite can visit one spot on Earth once or twice every day. BASIC's additional satellites will allow multiple passes over the same sites, alerting US government users to potential trouble, humanitarian crises or natural disasters like floods.
The announcement of the BASIC program, expected this week, has been delayed for months, with Pentagon, Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office officials fighting over who should be in charge of buying, building and operating the satellites. They have also debated whose needs the system will cater to: senior military commanders or policymakers in Washington.
At stake was not just money but power: Billion-dollar budgets are up for grabs, and the agencies' traditional missions and ways of doing business have been hanging in the balance, the Associated Press report further said.