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 News Article

Space 'Increasingly Important,' SPACECOM Chief Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2001 – American military involvement in space will become more critical to national security in coming years, said U.S. Space Command's top officer.

"Most anyone involved in military operations, whether military or civilian, would tell you space is becoming increasingly important," Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, SPACECOM commander in chief since February 2000, said in a March 28 interview with the American Forces Information Service.

Down-To-Earth Answers to Space Questions

  • What is the U.S. military’s definition of space? Answer
  • How high do most military and civilian satellites orbit the earth? Answer
  • How are military and commercial communications and information satellites kept in orbit? Answer
  • How many satellites and chunks of space debris does USSPACECOM monitor? Answer
  • Were the Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo air campaign defining moments for American military space operations? Answer
  • What is meant by a possible “U.S. Pearl Harbor” in space? Answer
  • Why are the Rumsfeld Space Commission’s recommendations important to future U.S. military-civil space operations? Answer
  • U.S. Space Command, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., coordinates the use of U.S. military and civilian space assets to support, enhance and control space operations and computer-network defensive and offensive missions. It is one of the nine unified commands in DoD that have operational control of U.S. combat forces.

    Satellite imagery, missile warning and targeting information that space-based systems provide have proven their military worth to U.S. defense planners throughout the past decade, Eberhart said. That data, for instance, contributed to victory during Operation Desert Storm and the 1999 Kosovo air campaign, he noted.

    "Look back to how we leveraged our space assets in Desert Storm, compare that to Kosovo -- or how we can leverage them even today as we have made advancements since Kosovo - - and I think it is obvious how important and how much we rely on capabilities that are resident in our information that moves through space," he said.

    Later this month Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is expected to provide his formal response to recommendations in a report issued Jan. 11 by the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization. Prior to his nomination to be secretary, Rumsfeld chaired the commission, which, among other things, sought to determine if any changes need to be made to improve the United States' national security posture and capabilities in space.

    Six months of research and interviews with the country's leading space experts, including Eberhart, convinced the commission that space should become a top national security priority.

    "We'd be kidding ourselves if we said we couldn't do it better, (and) our goal ought to be to do it better tomorrow," said Eberhart.

    For example, he noted that DoD space specialists could make more effective use of available communications bandwidth, and become better at processing and disseminating information "to get inside the enemy's decision-cycle."

    "We gather data," Eberhart said. "How can we change that data to information which can lead to decisions? That is the real key. We're working hard, we have some wonderful people out there, and we have a great partnership with industry, with commercial suppliers."

    A Rumsfeld space commission news release called the likelihood of future conflict in space "a virtual certainty." Because of this, the commission noted, the United States should take immediate steps to develop superior space capabilities.

    Some critics say the United States won't need such enhanced capabilities for 25 years or more, when a peer may arise to challenge America militarily in space. Other critics say there should be no military use of space, but Eberhart believes this has already occurred.

    "We have, in fact, militarized space," he said. "We use space assets, space information for military applications - - we've been doing that for decades. The trend is increasing, not just the United States of America, but also other countries. Friends -- and possible foes.

    "So, I think we've crossed that bridge," he concluded. 


    Down-To-Earth Answers to Space Questions

    The person with the answers is U.S. Space Command spokesman Air Force Maj. Perry Nouis:

    Q: What is the U.S. military’s definition of space?

    A: That would be clear if there was a definite line between atmosphere and space, but that’s not the case. The atmosphere fades to space. We typically use 100 miles' altitude as the beginning of "space." Ask others and you will get different answers. For example, astronaut wings are awarded when an individual is on a flight that reaches 50 miles in altitude or higher.

    Q: How high do most military and civilian satellites orbit the earth?

    A: All communications and missile-warning satellites are in geosynchronous orbit about 22,300 miles up. This is prime real estate in space because the satellite's orbit at this distance is in sync with the Earth's rotation -- the satellite appears stationary to a person on the ground looking up. Geosynchronous orbit allows the uplink and downlink of satellite signals over great distances. Missile warning satellites can monitor over 90 percent of the Earth’s surface.

    One of the more popular satellite systems in use today is the Global Positioning System. GPS satellites are in semi-synchronous orbit, about 11,200 miles in space. GPS is absolutely critical to U.S. military operations. In order to provide worldwide coverage, 24 satellites are needed. GPS is a global navigational aid to deployed U.S. forces and our allies. It also provides crucial timing assistance to coordinate military operations.

    In Low Earth Orbit, about 100 to 300 miles up, are satellite systems that provide intelligence imagery and weather data. It’s impossible to imagine U.S. forces going into combat today without satellite communications, space-based navigation/timing, imagery, weather or missile-warning support.

    Q: How are military and commercial communications and information satellites kept in orbit?

    A: All space systems are launched into various orbits. Computers monitor the "health" of each space vehicle and give commands to ensure each stays in its designated orbit and at the proper attitude with respect to the Earth. Systems destined for geosynchronous orbit must go through a series of maneuvers to achieve that distance.

    Q: How many satellites and chunks of space debris does USSPACECOM monitor?

    A: Our Space Surveillance System today tracks about 8,300 man-made objects the size of a softball or larger in Low Earth Orbit and basketball-sized objects in geosynchronous orbit. We don't track them constantly, but spot-check them throughout the day as they pass over sensors, radar and telescopes that are located around the world. There are gaps in the coverage.

    Q: Were the Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo air campaign defining moments for American military space operations?

    A: Desert Storm is considered by many to be the first true test of space systems in support of combat. We used space-based imagery for targeting and battle-damage assessments. We used missile-warning sensors to detect Scud launches and passed that information to theater commanders and their Patriot batteries. Satellites connected coalition members and provided instantaneous communications capabilities. We used space-based weather and navigation support extensively in the Persian Gulf War, and we still do today.

    Among Desert Storm's lessons was that space needed to be more integrated into U.S. and allied military operations. Doctrine was revised to take into account space-based military capabilities.

    The Kosovo operation showed the results of those integration efforts to date. U.S. and allied air power were at the forefront in achieving military objectives while incurring no loss of American life. U.S. military aircraft attacked military targets in Kosovo and Serbia at standoff distances by using Global Positioning System satellites to guide their munitions and missiles. They enjoyed a very high rate of success.

    In Kosovo, the fact remains NATO achieved its initial military objectives in a relatively short amount of time with no loss of allied life recorded.

    Q: What is meant by a possible “U.S. Pearl Harbor” in space?

    A: It's a term used for some years now to describe a surprise attack on U.S. space systems that could cripple U.S. warfighting capabilities. One of USSPACECOM’s responsibilities is to identify, monitor and plan to counter actual and future threats to our space systems. A key mission is space control, which means ensuring the United States retains access to and use of space during a conflict and that adversaries don't.

    From a military point of view, space is the ultimate "high ground." During crises in the future, the United States and an adversary will share that high ground at the beginning. Even if future adversaries don’t have their own space capabilities, they can gain them from their allies or commercial industry. Several countries are pursuing countermeasures. 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.”

    Q: Why are the Rumsfeld Space Commission’s recommendations important to future U.S. military-civil space operations?

    A: Commission members have a great amount of experience and respect within the space community. The effort undertaken within the past year to carefully review all aspects of military and civil space operations was certainly needed. Many of the commission's recommendations are being implemented, while others require further study. The secretary of defense will issue a formal response to the commission's findings and recommendations in mid-April.

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