UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Space systems like GPS support joint forces near Iraq

Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. March 27, 1998

WASHINGTON (AFNS) - As United Nations weapons experts embark on the next round of inspections in Iraq, thousands of U.S. airmen stand poised to attack if trouble erupts.

As 8,700 airmen with more than 200 aircraft warily watch in theater, they have the support of an array of spacecraft passing hundreds and thousands of miles overhead.

If President Clinton orders a strike, air crews and their arsenal of "smart" munitions would find their targets with the help of a constellation of 24 Global Positioning System satellites, plus Defense Support Program and Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft.

Their signals would guide an arsenal that includes 30 F-15s, 60 F-16s, 12 F-117s, 18 A-10s, 14 B-52s, 14 KC-10s, 21 KC-135s, three U-2s, three B-1B's, five E-3B Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and one E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft for ground reconnaissance. Other aircraft, including helicopters, would support special operations forces and air crew search and rescues.

Typically, these forces can fly missions such as offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, close-air support, suppression of enemy air defense, electronic warfare, surveillance and reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, air refueling, airlift, composite force training, information operations and command and control of air operations.

Ordnance at their disposal includes HARM, Maverick, Sidewinder, Sparrow and AMRAAM missiles, "smart" bombs and conventional air-launch cruise missiles. Compared to Desert Storm when smart weapons made up 10 percent of the arsenal, today's force-in-wait would deliver mostly smart bombs and missiles. This places extra emphasis on the circling sentinel of satellites to help put iron on targets.

With this precision engagement, Air Force leaders expect to apply selective force against specific targets. At the same time, military power would be delivered with minimal risk and collateral damage. That means commanders could employ force in measured, but effective, doses. In that grand scheme, help from space is a must.

"Our capabilities are much more dependent on space systems than they were in Desert Storm," said Maj. Gen. Gerald F. Perryman Jr., 14th Air Force commander and Air Force Space Operations component commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. "Our capabilities are much greater, and they're much better integrated into our global military operations."

He emphasized that "Air Force space technology has changed the way we do military business. We've learned that space makes our troops safer and more effective, and there's no more efficient means for collecting and disseminating information about navigation, communication, intelligence, weather and missile warning."

Perryman noted that all military services benefit from Air Force technological advances. He said, "The Air Force Global Positioning System has become the glue that holds today's joint military operations together. Satellites will guide Navy Tomahawk missiles to their targets and have made the [Army] Patriot missile much more accurate than in Desert Storm."

Leading the way for gains in targeting accuracy is the Global Positioning System, developed at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. During the Gulf War, the system was still incomplete with not enough satellites aloft to give complete, constant worldwide coverage.

"Now we have a complete GPS constellation," the general said. With 24 satellites orbiting 11,000 miles high, "you'll be able to 'see' four satellites at a time with your GPS receiver on 100 percent of the Earth. Without that in Desert Storm, in some cases that limited us to two-dimensional position capability instead of the precise longitude, latitude and altitude capability we have today."

With GPS in full, reliable operation, pilots are no longer 'tied' to targets.

"They can drop GPS-aided munitions from great distances from the target and leave the area," Perryman said. "Often pilots can strike multiple targets with just one pass over the area. The bottom line is there will be fewer pilots in harm's way to achieve the same results."

The general added that "GPS is also extremely valuable when arranging rendezvous such as refueling." The Navy's new survival radio linked to GPS will also speed the search and rescue of downed airmen.

According to Col. James B. Armor, director of SMC's GPS Joint Program Office, the recent tension in the Persian Gulf region offered a chance for Team SMC to shine.

"When you realize the tremendous importance of SMC-acquired assets on the modern battlefield, it really helps you connect the hard work done here with the troops in the field," Armor said.

Another space-based system will almost instantaneously detect theater ballistic missile launches. Iraqi Scud missiles are usually airborne for only five to seven minutes, and during Desert Storm, according to Perryman, "we manually plotted the course of incoming Scuds on a map with pins.

"Since then, we've stood up the 11th Space Warning Squadron at Falcon Air Force Base, Colo., to detect worldwide missile launches. They have the latest computer technology at their disposal. We're confident they can accurately predict the course of a Scud-class missile in ample time for us to pass on warnings to our troops in the field anywhere in the world."

Passing quietly far overhead, Perryman said space systems "don't grab a lot of headlines for our global military operations.

"But make no mistake. We'd no sooner send American troops into harm's way without Air Force space products than we'd send them into battle armed with sticks and stones."

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list