Magazine article National Defense

Improved Eavesdropping Satellites Sought by U.S

Magazine article National Defense

Improved Eavesdropping Satellites Sought by U.S

Article excerpt

U.S. military officials are preparing to deploy sophisticated eyes-in-- space for tactical surveillance in an effort to supplement existing airborne platforms such as the Joint STARS and the U-2 planes.

Joint STARS (surveillance and target attack radar system) is a customized Boeing 707 jet equipped with a multimode radar to locate and track ground targets. The long-winged U-2 is a high-- altitude spy plane that has served the U.S. military for decades.

Programs currently in early stages of development, meanwhile, are focusing on satellite-based capabilities to scan the battlefield and provide intelligence about the enemy with unprecedented levels of detail.

One effort to field a space-based radar is the Discoverer II program, sponsored by the Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). It seeks to deploy 24 satellites-the first two scheduled for launch in 2003.

The 15-month-old project stems from DARPA's research on the prospect of building a constellation of inexpensive radar satellites designed to provide near-continuous, day-night, all-weather, synthetic aperture radar imaging to troops on the ground. The information would not be passing through a central command post in the United States, but would flow unencumbered to the battle zone.

The Discoverer II joint program office awarded three contracts last February: an $8.62 million contract to Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Littleton, Colorado; $9.74 million to Spectrum Astro, Gilbert, Arizona; and $10.52 million to TRW Space and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, California. All three contracts involve studies and designs of two satellites for a Discoverer II technology demonstration in 2003.

"We want to launch over the next decade a constellation of 24 Discoverer II satellites that will provide imagery data [and] targeting data from space that are directly down-linked to Army troops," said Lt. Gen. John Costello, head of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. He spoke with reporters at a conference sponsored by the command in Huntsville, Alabama.

The system, he said, "will revolutionize reconnaissance and surveillance on the ground."

But, unlike other more expensive space systems, Discoverer II will seek to put a constellation in orbit for less than $100 million per satellite. Costello cautioned that, in order to meet that cost goal, there would be trade-offs, such as the level of protection against jamming. "How vulnerable [Discoverer II] will be is not known," said Costello. …

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