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[infowar.de] Engpass bei militärischer Weltraum-Kommunikation
Von Georg Schöfbänker. Eine interessante Beschreibung der technischen
Probleme des "reach back"-Konzeptes (eine Art Fernsteuerung der Einsätze
aus den USA). RB
October 8, 2001
War On Terrorism Could Clog Military's Space Airwaves
By Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer
The effort to track down Osama bin Laden and rid the world of terrorism
could be bogged down by clogged pipes on the military's satellite-based
information superhighway as the ground forces rely more heavily than
ever on their ability to phone home for instructions.
Though one military analyst said operation Enduring Freedom would have
to escalate out of control for such a scenario to take place, the search
for bin Laden may already have spurred the Department of Defense to
shift orbiting eyeballs away from Iraq and could force the military to
purchase satellite time from private companies.
It wouldn't be the first time.
As war and intelligence operations become more sophisticated, they rely
more heavily on space-relay links from the Pentagon to military command
centers in Europe and the Middle East and, further, to outposts near the
front lines of operation.
More data, more electronic maps, more commands from top brass, even 3-D
visualizations of enemy territory.
"Space has been integrated ever more fully into our military systems,
from targeting to communications to intelligence -- you name it," says
Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of
American Scientists. "The infrastructure of our military is utterly
dependent on the space-based component."
Like video clips jamming the Internet, the military's technological
sophistication grows to fill the bandwidth, said Owen Cote, associate
director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute
Ground troops, special forces and fighter pilots in the newly proclaimed
war on terrorism will likely move more bits of data than ever before as
they are forced to new levels of creativity to locate a terrorist leader
who does not wish to be found and who has proven extremely elusive.
"It's possible that this operation might exhaust some of our [satellite]
capabilities in the region," Cote said in a telephone interview after
the American-led attacks in Afghanistan Sunday.
As they try to root out terrorists in forbidding, mountainous country,
U.S. and ally forces will depend heavily on a technique called "reach
back." It involves leaving much of the administrative personnel and
details behind in order to streamline a unit of troops, who then rely on
a wide communications pipe to get data and orders from military command
Soldiers in the field could, for example, speak directly with an expert
on mines and download photos and illustrated instructions for how to
defuse or detonate them. The Navy is experimenting with animated 3-D
visualizations of enemy territory.
Cotes said the military continually ratchets up its use of reach-back as
satellite capabilities improve. He likened it to a highway going into a
big city at rush hour: Build another lane, and people who used to take
the subway will choose to drive, instead, and so the highway remains
Curiously, almost no fighter jets rely on satellite communications,
Cotes said. The receiving units are simply too large to stuff into an
"They're just beginning to scratch the surface of bringing real-time
info into the cockpit via satellite" as the size of receiver units
shrinks, he said.
Cotes said if operation Enduring Freedom runs into bandwidth problems,
there are two options: The military could purchase satellite time from
private companies, as was done during Desert Storm in 1991; or they
could move military satellites from other orbits into favorable
positions over Afghanistan. "And we wouldn't know it."
The government keeps such changes cloaked in secrecy. But already, some
satellites designed to intercept radio and mobile phone traffic are
thought to have been reassigned from places like Iraq and North Korea to
watch over Afghanistan, according to the online magazine Satnews.
In all, nearly 100 satellites contribute directly or indirectly to
operation Enduring Freedom, said John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org, which advises the American intelligence community on
post-Cold War security issues.
But Pike said the operation as planned will be just one-tenth the size
of Desert Storm. He said it would have to go seriously wrong in order to
require the kind of satellite support that might clog the system.
"It is perfectly capable of going horribly wrong," Pike said. "But the
plan is to keep it small."
But since Sept. 11, President George Bush has warned that the war on
terrorism would not be confined to Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, the U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, warned that the war
could escalate now that the first rounds of attacks have begun,
requiring America to defend itself against other countries or
Threat to satellites
All this reliance on communications opens the door to threats that could
be exploited, even by enemies with small forces and limited technical
capabilities. But most major satellite operations should be safe,
Yet while military communications across continents often occur via
relatively secure satellite frequencies, mobile satellite communication
systems used by troops are less reliable.
"It's very easy to jam the uplinks," Cotes said. "But that's been true
Most experts think it's unlikely that bin Laden or the Taliban, which
has supported him and is the effective ruling body in Afghanistan, could
mount any effort to threaten satellites in space via an actual attack.
They are not thought to have any of the weapons needed to blind or
disable a satellite, said Aftergood, the Federation of American
"The Taliban do not have a missile launch capability," he said. "They do
not have anti-satellite capability. They do not have the capability to
detonate nuclear weapons in space."
A more likely target would be ground-based stations where satellite
communications are processed. But Aftergood said those areas would be
among the most well protected military installations.
A 'Pearl Harbor' in space?
In the broader sense, and well before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on
the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the Department of Defense has
worried about the possibility of a surprise attack on satellites that
could cripple aspects of a U.S. military effort.
The U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) is charged with monitoring any
possible threats and planning how to counter them. Air Force Gen. Ralph
E. Eberhart, SPACECOM commander in chief, calls it the risk of "a Pearl
Harbor in space."
While the current terrorist threat is unlikely to extend to space,
Eberhart acknowledged earlier this year that battlefields can change as
a war goes on.
"Even if future adversaries don?t have their own space capabilities,
they can gain them from their allies or commercial industry," Eberhart
said in March. "Jammers are in development to defeat communications and
GPS satellites and, in some cases, they're already being sold. The
technology for satellite-blinding lasers is advancing rapidly."
The Global Position System (GPS) was developed for the military and is
widely used to provide highly accurate coordinates of targets, military
bases and personnel.
The future: More space
Meanwhile, U.S. commanders say they must work on better integration
between the various branches of the Armed Forces to make better use of
the space-based tools they have and the data that is generated.
"We need to realize that we must integrate our manned, unmanned and
space platforms," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper. "We
shouldn?t be jealous about which platform or sensor is put to work in
the air, on the ground or in space."
One sign of the times: Last year the Air Force created an air and space
operations center (AOC), billed as a "new weapons system," at Nellis Air
Force Base, Nev.
Jumper said airmen need to become more proficient at gathering and
synthesizing time-critical information that can be used destroy targets.
"While we still acknowledge the bravery of those at the ?tip of the
spear? who put themselves in harm?s way deep over enemy territory, the
fact is that the AOC warrior will play a big part of target
identification and destruction in the future," he said.
That future, it would seem, is now.
And earlier this week, the Department of Defense laid out a plan to beef
up military space surveillance and communications, while also
underscoring the need to deny use of space by adversaries.
Elusive bin Laden
But for all their promise, can satellites find Osama bin Laden?
"No," Aftergood said.
"There are too many ways that he can conceal himself from space-based
detection. For one thing, from space you're looking down or at a
slightly oblique angle. Essentially what you see is the top of someone's
head. Identifying an individual from an overhead view is not something
one can count on."
Aftergood and other military experts agree that while satellites are
crucial for communications and imaging, they will not play as big a role
in America's proclaimed war on terrorism as they have in other military
efforts over the past decade, including the Gulf War and the NATO-led
effort in Kosovo.
"We learned in the Gulf War... that we're not very good at finding and
attacking mobile and fleeting targets," Aftergood said.
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