Satellite-Based Systems Prove Their Worth

As U.S. forces raced up the Euphrates River Valley in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they confronted a dust storm of nearly biblical proportions. Though it would cause a discernible pause in offensive operations, that storm might have proven catastrophic if it had taken U.S. military commanders completely by surprise. Luckily, a space surveillance system called MODIS (for Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), which flies aboard NASA satellites, had accurately detected the surface dust associated with the approaching storm and U.S. commanders were forewarned.

That is just one of many instances during the Iraqi campaign that illustrates how advances in space-based electronics and communications are revolutionizing the American style of war. The extended lines of communication in the offensive from Kuwait to Baghdad made U.S. forces unusually dependent on satellite communications. The satellite-based Global Positioning System guided most strategic strikes by Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The ubiquitous unmanned aerial vehicles that were the technological standouts of the campaign also relied on satellite communications.

Since becoming secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld has pushed a revolution in space-based capabilities, following the recommendations of the 2001 Space Commission he chaired. The commission argued that the nation's ability to dominate space will prove as vital in the information age as were the shipyards and factories of America's "arsenal of democracy" during the industrial age.

To press that point, last October the Pentagon established the Transformational Communications Office to coordinate the communications and intelligence efforts of the Defense Department, the National Reconnaissance Office (which operates the nation's secret constellation of spy satellites), and NASA. The agencies are expected to spend upwards of $10 billion in the coming years to field a network of satellites that will bring a secure Internet-like communications capability to front-line U.S. military forces around the world.

One example of the new approach is Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS-High), a satellite constellation under development that will be used by the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency to provide early warnings of missile launches and by the NRO for intelligence gathering. The Bush administration's fiscal 2004 budget request includes $713 million for the SBIRS-High program, with a first launch of an actual satellite scheduled for 2007.

The SBIRS-Low program was designed to place a satellite system in low Earth orbit to detect and track ballistic missiles. Though canceled last year due to cost overruns and schedule delays, the program has been reconfigured as the $3.1 billion Satellite Tracking and Surveillance System.

In terms of communications satellites, the Defense Information Systems Agency, under the management of the NRO, continues to coordinate upgrades to existing systems. Notably, the Advanced Extremely High-Frequency (AEHF) satellite system is being developed to replace the current generation of Milstar communications satellites. The goal of the AEHF system is to provide more secure satellite communications.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials continue to develop a space-based radar system designed to provide unprecedented all-weather surveillance capability for military commanders. Launch of the system is expected between 2010 and 2012.


Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.