Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

High Ground over the Homeland: Issues in the Use of Space Assets for Homeland Security

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

High Ground over the Homeland: Issues in the Use of Space Assets for Homeland Security

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract: Lt Col (sel) S. Didi Kuo outlines the challenges that space professionals face as they support traditional power-projection missions and new homeland-security tasks. Many navigation, communication, and weather-support missions translate easily from military roles to domestic-security support. But legal constraints, security classification, and complicated relationships among many agencies may make space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities difficult to integrate with local, state, and federal response agencies. Colonel Kuo also states that partial solutions to such challenges can come from innovative and creative uses of space assets. How the U.S. develops the potential of space for civil, commercial, defense and intelligence purposes will affect the nation's security for decades to come.

-Commission to Assess United States National

Security: Space Management and Organization

January 2001

THE ATTACK ON 11 September 2001 (9/11) has forever altered how Americans view their security at home. Homeland security is now a top priority for our country in the new war on terrorism. That attack has also transformed our government's approach to defending the homeland. Space assets are being used in the overseas battle against terrorism in intelligence gathering and support of military operations. Space-based surveillance also provides early warning for national missile defense.1 However, there are several challenges to overcome before we can fully integrate space assets into the homeland-security framework for operations within our US borders.

Space Capabilities for Homeland Security

Space already plays an important role in the area of navigation and communication, and it provides the information infrastructure necessary for homeland security. Use of communication satellites, especially commercial ones, provides the backbone for many of the current homeland-security communication needs. The reliance on these satellites becomes even more critical in a crisis where terrestrial communications (both landlines and cellular) are unavailable.2 Satellite communications provided a message of "assurance and resolve" at a time when the public-accessible communications infrastructure was in disarray.3

The Global Positioning System's (GPS) constellation of over 24 satellites has revolutionized the navigational field.4 After 9/11, GPS attracted attention for its potential uses in homeland security as well as a terrorist target.5 The integration of GPS into search and rescue and other emergency services is already widespread. After 9/11 major city leaders envisioned how GPS could be used to track certain vehicles and their contents.6 Surveillance of vehicles belonging to suspected terrorists could also be done through GPS tagging devices. During a crisis response, all emergency vehicles, and even individual personnel, could be tracked by GPS by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Joint Operations Center. The discontinuation of "selective availability" increased the positional accuracy for civil users. The military, however, still receives greater positional accuracy because their encrypted receivers can better compensate for ionospheric error.7 A study should be conducted to determine if homeland-security applications would benefit from that greater positional accuracy.

Weather information from satellites aids in preparedness and consequence management efforts. Real-time environmental data supports vulnerability and risk analyses while forecasts support the decisions that will guide preparation, protection, response, and recovery operations.8 After the 9/11 attack, the National Weather Service provided this information using special forecasts to assist decision makers in their recovery efforts.9 Forecasting and realtime data were also provided in support of Operation Noble Eagle.10

Overhead signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection can aid in the detection and prevention of terrorist attacks. …

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