Friday, July 16, 2004

Saddam Hussein’s failed attempt to jam U.S. Global Positioning System navigation signals during the Iraq war is an example of the growing danger of space warfare, the Air Force’s top space commander said yesterday.

“We certainly knew it was occurring, and we also attacked GPS jammers with GPS-aided direct attack munitions and killed them,” said Air Force Gen. Lance W. Lord, chief of the Colorado-based Air Force Space Command.

Saddam’s government obtained special electronic jamming equipment from Russia that was set up around several sites in Iraq. The jammers attempted to disrupt the signals sent by U.S. GPS satellites that are used to guide joint direct attack munitions, the military’s premier satellite-guided bombs.

The encounter with the GPS jammers in March 2003 showed that the Air Force needed “stronger signals” on the constellation of 24 navigation satellites to defeat jamming equipment, said Gen. Lord, who is in charge of U.S. nuclear missiles and satellite communications networks for the military.

The Air Force is building a more advanced system of navigation satellites that will be less vulnerable to jamming, Gen. Lord said in a meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times.

“We did some actions during the war that made sure that when the satellites were available in view of the theater they had the most accurate uploads, so we had the constellations screwed down as tight as we could with respect to the accuracy it provided,” Gen. Lord said without elaborating.

In guiding bombs and providing navigation for aircraft, GPS satellites send a relatively low-strength electronic signal from 14,145 miles in space.

“Where you have your antenna positioned relative to where the jammer might be gives you a big advantage,” Gen. Lord said. “There are several tactics you can take to help defeat a low-wattage kind of jammer, and we’re certainly familiar with all of those.”

Gen. Lord said one of his missions is “offensive counterspace” operations — denying an adversary from using weapons against U.S. satellites.

“That’s not a matter of if that’s going to happen, that has already happened,” Gen. Lord said.

“Saddam Hussein tried to jam our Global Positioning System satellites during Operation Iraqi Freedom. That tells us that this medium [space] is certainly something we have to continue to protect,” he said.

Gen. Lord said the military did not restrict the use of commercial GPS navigation signals during the Iraq war.

However, the Air Force developed coded signals for military forces that are part of “navigational warfare” that allows allied forces to use the signals, but denies adversaries the ability to use the GPS navigation system for guided weapons or military navigation.

He noted that GPS is “the world’s most widely used free utility.”

On strategic force modernization, Gen. Lord said his command is about to begin a study of future ground-based strategic missiles that will consider developing a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a replacement for the silo-based force of 517 Minuteman II and Peacekeeper missiles.

The U.S. government abandoned development of a mobile ICBM in the early 1990s.

However, Russia is continuing development of its mobile ICBM force, which includes SS-25s and SS-27s, and China also has a new road-mobile ICBM known as the DF-31.

Asked about a recent Pentagon report that China is developing anti-satellite weapons, Gen. Lord said China is “a robust competitor” of the United States that has shown the technical capability to “do things in the environment of space.”

The Air Force is monitoring China’s and other nations’ space weapons capabilities, he said.

The Pentagon’s report on Chinese military power, made public in May, stated that Beijing has the capability of destroying or disabling space satellites by launching a nuclear weapon into space.

China also has a low-energy laser that can “blind” low-orbiting satellites, the report said.

The Pentagon also is investigating China’s capability of killing satellites with a “microsatellite” — a very small spacecraft, the report said.

“China clearly is working on, and plans to field ASATs,” the report said. ASATs are anti-satellite weapons.

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