THE NEXT GENERATION SPY SATELLITES
- *20121011-THE NEXT GENERATION SPY SATELLITES*
Intelligence Chief Hints At New Spy Satellites; Biggest Change in 30 Years
► AOL Defense / by Colin Clark
► Stringer: Frank Slijper / Campaign Against Arms Trade / Groningen NL /
Oct 12 2012 ► Oct 11.
The United States has boosted into orbit new spy satellites that mark "the
most significant change to our overhead architecture in at least three
decades," said the head of military intelligence, Mike Vickers. Vickers
also said these National Reconnaissance Office's satellites comprise "a
truly integrated system of systems for the first time." Sadly for you, dear
reader, the well known leader of the first war in Afghanistan – the one
against the Soviets – did not share any other details. Instead, he
delivered his speech and left the conference at speed.
I exchanged emails with a Pentagon source who offered this additional bit
of information: "He was speaking about a new, but classified, overhead
architecture that will provide greater persistence than ever before."
For those who don't speak intelligence-speak, that means the satellites can
see more because they can look at an area for a longer period of time.
Another source well versed in national security space issues was somewhat
stumped by Vickers' comments but offered this insight: Perhaps, the source
said, this is a reference to the new practice of sending aloft sensors and
other instruments that share a ride on a satellite, known as hosted
payloads. The classified sensors would go up on a commercial or on a
government satellite. In the case of the NRO, the sensors would probably be
highly classified electro-optical sensors (ones that take pictures an
analyst can look at), very sensitive radars, or sensors that collect data
from cell phones, telephones and radios, known as signals intelligence
(SIGINT). This practice allows the NRO to place sensors in orbits it might
not otherwise gain access to and lets it hide sensors in places a
prospective enemy might not take into account.
(Some folks will know about this because Bety Sap, the new director of the
NRO, will present a highly classified briefing on the topic Friday, Vickers
In addition to the improvements in the NRO's spy satellites, Vickers told
Geoint attendees that there's increasing work on machine-to-machine
intelligence tracking. For example, a sensor surveys an area for a target
and automatically notifies another sensor when the target is apparently
spotted. A human is notified, confirms that the machine has found the
target and tells the machine to automatically track. It does and, given the
order, kills the target. In the intelligence world this bears the wonderful
rubric of "activity-based intelligence."
Couple ABI with recent comments by former NRO Director Bruce Carlson that
signals intelligence collection has gotten so refined and is now so fast
that if a suspect cell phone or radio is found it can be tracked and is
accurate enough that it can used for targeting. Call your mistress, Sheikh
al Qaeda, and if intelligence can confirm it's you with a high probability,
then they might find you, track you and kill you with much of the work done
by sensors and computers.
Vickers went on to make an apparent reference to what most people call Long
Range Strike (aka America's new strategic bomber), which he called "the
operational manifestation" of the strategic shift to the Pacific. Senior
Air Force officials say the bomber will be manned, but capable of flying
unmanned. And LRS will probably include UAVs as part of its system. That
UAV may be what Vickers envisioned when he said the US will develop and
field "robust and resilient ISR capabilities" that can operate in so-called
A2AD areas (anti-access/active denial), namely areas where the enemy has
anti-aircraft weapons and the ability to jam.
That would mean a major shift from today's Predator, Global Hawk and other
UAVs (Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Air Force folks), which cannot operate
in denied airspace because they can be jammed and pretty easily shot down.
But, as Vickers didn't offer many details, we are just trying to fill in
Life is illusory and as fleeting as a bubble in a stream.
~ from the Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book known, circa 868 AD
"Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!": "Look behind
you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you'll die!”
~ Tertullian in his Apologeticus.
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