Satellite Communications and Situational Awareness
As with so much else in today's world, the military and military operations have been transformed by technology. The situation of the armed forces, and of combat itself, in the time of the Second World War, Korea, and even Vietnam, seem like the dim memories of bygone age. Yet, these conflicts were within the experience of many persons now living. Once upon a time, commanders in the field depended either on their own eyes and ears for information in regard to the enemy, or else they relied on information that was hours, days, or even possibly weeks old. Napoleon and Wellington would have been stunned by the technologies available to Eisenhower and Rommel -- the ability to reconnoiter by flying over enemy positions, instant communication by radio between troops in the field and base camp, not to mention "precision" weapons, big guns whose firing mechanisms had been carefully calibrated according to scientific calculations. Just give the order, and you could shells an enemy position, miles away and out of sight. If you really tried, you might even be able to hit a specific target: a barn, a bunker, maybe even a particular pillbox. But who would be more amazed with the military communication tools, and situational awareness available to the commanders of the Twenty-First Century? Grant? Pershing? Possibly someone closer to our own time ... like General Westmoreland? After all, that was only thirty years ago. Could so much really have changed?
Communications satellites, and computer technology, have completely revolutionized modern warfare. Strategy, deployment, and combat are all affected by the contemporary commander's access to state-of-the-art communications equipment that permits him to observe from afar the lay of the land, the supply lines, and disposition of enemy troops. He can communicate with his own men and women even if all visible lines-of-communication are broken or blocked. He can send messages to his own detachments even if there is no infrastructure in place. No jungle is too thick, nor any mountain so high, nor any shelter so deep that they cannot be penetrated by modern method's of reconnaissance. The rings of satellites that circle the Earth have made possible real-time correspondence and surveillance by any commander, anywhere. That is why technology is so important. That is why it is so essential that our military have the very best, and the very latest that today's scientists and computer technicians can create. And that is why, too, the armed forces of the United States of America cannot afford to let any of their technological equipment, or any of their technological plans fall into the hands of unfriendly nations, armies, or terrorists. Modern warfare is more mobile than ever before, but it is also more highly technical and precise, more far-reaching and all-encompassing than anything that was ever dreamed of by the heroes of previous conflicts -- even those that took place in the early days of the careers of some of the modern army's top generals, or the Navy's leading admirals. This paper will examine the influence that satellite communications have on the situational awareness of today's military. It will show what makes America's fighting men and women ... "The best in the world."
B. The First Satellites
The very first satellites were less objects of utility than symbols of the potential power of modern technology. The ability of a nation to build an artificial satellite, and launch that satellite into orbit around the Earth was representative of the level of skill available to a given state. Such successes presaged other achievements, and appeared even to foretell future military success and world domination. The nation that managed to produce this first little piece of a technological miracle was the Soviet Union. The soviet success shocked the West, and the United States in particular:
The impact of the space race can hardly be overstated. For the better part of a decade the Soviets scored triumph after triumph as the United States struggled desperately to get into the game. Not only did the Soviet Union launch the first satellite, but their satellites were much heavier (Khrushchev liked to refer to American satellites as "oranges and grapefruits"). Then, in 1959 the Soviets launched the first satellites outside the earth's orbit; one of these circled the sun the, first artificial planet, and another went around the moon and sent back pictures of the moon's far side, an accomplishment a British survey called "an astonishing demonstration of Soviet technological skill" and "a feat of enormous propaganda value."
(Mueller, 1989, p. 146)
Hoping for second place, not even being in the running for first place, these events made America seem to destined to lose the worldwide race for dominance. For the Cold War was more than a matter of two sides drawing up in battle lines, it was a fight between ideologies, a fight for the future of people's souls and the future of civilization. Until the fateful day the first Soviet satellite was launched, few would have thought that any could challenge the American military, or the American way-of-life. In the words of a near-contemporary text, "If the nation felt that it lay unprotected in the face of Soviet attack ... The nation might be bluffed into accepting a series of limited setbacks which in the end would add up to the loss of the balance of power in Eurasia and, in effect, to clean-cut American defeat." (Rostow, 1960, p. 314) In one stroke, the Soviet Union appeared to eliminate what had been seen as a hands-down American advantage in terms of international bases, the Strategic Air Command, and a general ability to attack its adversary without placing its own people and territories directly in harm's way. The U.S.S.R.'s
... Fundamental talents in the relevant fields of basic science and engineering were evidently available .... Moreover, it solved the problem of external bases, since the ICBM could strike America from Russian soil. Thus, the whole enterprise appeared to provide a way of bypassing an adversary's main strength.
(Rostow, 1972, p. 70)
C. The U.S. Military and New Strategies for Defense
Of course, once the United States got into the game, satellite technology advanced exponentially. Today's satellites perform many useful functions, and are a far cry from being mere symbols of a precarious scientific preeminence. The new technology helps to shape America's role in a Post-Cold War world. It guarantees the absolute hegemony of American military might by making the United Sates Armed Forces unlike any other in history.
Military pre-eminence rests on the application of information technology to warfare, or what the Pentagon terms the 'revolution in military affairs (RMA)'. The ultimate aim is to build 'a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity' ....RMA is the key to Washington's strategic aims because such an extended empire is virtually impossible under the physical constraints of traditional military organisation. [Emphasis added]
With the aid of satellites it becomes possible for the United States and its forces to react almost instantly to developments across the globe.
Relaying information, satellites provide real-time data in regard to "hot spots" around the world. Satellites have been instrumental in maintaining the U.S. edge in Korea, providing both surveillance capabilities and also guidance for American "smart" bombs. (Harrison, 2002, p. 126) These arrangements significantly outclass North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il's vast armed camp of a nation. Yet "spy satellites" hardly represent the very latest and most significant aspects of the new technology. Defense itself is being changed almost beyond recognition by the use of satellites as key elements in operations as well as planning. The new wave in military thinking focuses on, "stand-off capabilities. The situation will be developed 'out of contact,' that is, by satellite and airborne sensors rather than by the armed reconnaissance of ground elements." (Kagan, 2003) Satellites enable troop allocation and deployment by making possible detailed close-up views of enemy terrain. In fact, regions can be intricately mapped even though no hostilities yet exist between the United States and the foreign nation. Beginning as a top secret Cold War program, these satellites have to date provided enormous amounts of essential information in regard to troop deployment. (Cloud, 2002) An example of how truly widespread all of this satellite "Advance planning" really is, one need only look at the following information:
To escalate war in the Andes under Plan Colombia, the U.S. military is building an intelligence centre in the country that takes information from U.S. spy satellites and it has set up Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) in already existing Latin American and Caribbean airfields. In Peru, the U.S. spent $61.3 million on building and upgrading runways so that AWACS (stealth) planes can take off and land and up to 250 U.S. military personnel can be stationed there. Other FOLs are in the Dutch dependencies of Aruba and Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela and in El Salvador. (Sharma & Kumar, 2003)