- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

The Pentagon under Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who three years ago chaired a blue-ribbon commission to study the management of U.S. national security in space, has succeeded in integrating space systems with military operations on air, land and sea. The armed forces conducted, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, operations that included inputs from space in a fully integrated way. For the first time, satellites were not just remote intelligence assets but an integral part of the military effort on the ground and in the air.

The constellation of 28 Global Positioning System satellites provided navigation for ground forces and guided highly accurate strikes by aircraft and sea-based cruise missiles. Early warning satellites watched for missile launches, and high-speed communications satellites linked everything together, not only within the theater of operations, but also with Washington and other headquarters.

The Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia tasked the space units that controlled satellites to meet mission needs as they arose daily. The newest Milstar satellite with its medium-data-rate transmission capability was star of the show. With much faster transmission than earlier satellites, it enabled warships at sea to send updated data to cruise missiles on their way to targets.

The special operations forces that moved quickly and secretly around Iraq early in the conflict said their ability to communicate via Milstar satellites was crucial to success. Weather satellites, usually considered prosaic, proved essential for tracking sandstorms and finding oil fires.

Despite this highly successful integration of dozens of satellites into military operations, one capability is lacking — satellites that can track moving vehicles on the ground over large areas, day and night, in all kinds of weather. Nothing in space can do that.

Airborne radars did a good job in Iraq, but they can be limited in coverage and vulnerable to attack. All-weather, 24-hour radars safely orbiting hundreds of miles in space would be a revolutionary improvement over existing systems.

The ability to find, target and strike tanks and other vehicles moving under cover of darkness, in the rain or during a sandstorm could make the difference in preventing an attack or blocking an escape. In Serbia, where tanks moved only at night or in the often bad weather, U.S. forces understood the value of a tracking and targeting capability in space.

Ground tracking from space under the control of the field commander is a high priority for the Army. But all the services want such a capability. Air Force Undersecretary Peter Teets says a space-based radar will give future warfighters a tremendous advantage, and the Strategic Command’s Adm. James Ellis calls it a key transformational capability.

In the late 1990s, a Pentagon program called Discoverer 2 was developing a space-based radar. But three years ago, that program was killed by the determined opposition of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, on the grounds it lacked a concept of operations and future costs might be too high.

Since then, fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has validated the lessons of Serbia and Kosovo, and the Air Force has started a new space-based radar program. Progress has been made in developing the key technologies — ground moving target indicators and high-resolution synthetic aperture radars, and the Defense Department is using its new concept of spiral development to work out problems and control costs.

The Pentagon asked for $274 million to develop space-based radar in its budget for 2004, a substantial increase over this year’s $48 million. The need now is to evaluate architecture options and do systems engineering so the key technologies can be integrated into a whole system. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees approved the request, but the House Appropriations Committee cut it by a whopping $100 million.

That committee has been waging a vendetta against space-based radar for years in the belief the ultimate cost will be too high. In addition to cutting the budget, the committee added language limiting use of the funds to “technology maturation and risk reduction.” This would prevent the needed systems work and delay development.

The Defense Department under Mr. Rumsfeld is trying to do this program right, but progress cannot be made without the funds and the freedom to do the necessary work. In the House-Senate conference on the defense appropriation, the Senate should remove the restrictive language and approve the full amount requested.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times who is based in San Diego.

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