Courier Mail October 10, 2001
Spies in sky guide strikes
By Ken Guggenheim
SOPHISTICATED spy planes and satellites offer US forces vivid images of their targets in Afghanistan, intelligence analysts revealed yesterday.
Advances in broadband communications and computer technology mean that soldiers in the field can use laptop computers to get the latest images of the targets right before an attack.
"They are not going to conduct any operations without using satellite imagery to understand where every house and hill is in the area," said John Pike, a military specialist. But it is unclear how helpful these images will be as US forces hunt down terrorist Osama bin Laden and fight the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan who have protected him.
Though satellites provide greater coverage and clearer images than before, they are of limited use in a manhunt.
"This isn't perfect by any means," said Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "Weather remains a problem. We're talking small, scattered, targets. Very often only human intelligence can tell us who is in a building."
But he said that not knowing whether they could be caught by spy imagery could keep US targets in hiding.
US officials generally decline to discuss intelligence gathering capabilities, but some of the satellite and aircraft available include:
* Lacrosse/Vega high-resolution satellites considered particularly useful in cloudy weather.
* KeyHole electro-optical imaging satellite which offers high resolution images, capable of picking out objects as small as 10cm.
* GNAT-750 Lofty View: A long-endurance surveillance aircraft that can stay aloft up to 48 hours without refuelling with a range of 805km.
* RQ-1 Predator which carries two colour video cameras and can remain airborne for more than 40 hours. Can provide information via satellites with video.
* Hunter UAV is an ancestor of the Predator. It has been plagued by problems.
* RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude, long-range spy plane. Still in final testing, the Global Hawk can use cameras, infra-red sensors and radar during flights up to 40 hours.
* E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System provides surveillance and communications. It is a modified Boeing 707/320 airplane with a rotating radar dome 9m in diameter and a range of more than 400km.
Copyright 2001 Nationwide News Pty Limited