SATELLITES: KEY TO VICTORY?

Since the fall of Baghdad, just about every media outlet has anointed a technology as the decisive factor that "won the war." The Los Angeles Times takes its turn today, nominating military satellites as the gee-whiz key to victory."Though overshadowed by headline-grabbing pilotless drones and 21,000-pound MOAB bunker-buster bombs, the quick, quiet, almost mundane flow of electronic information -- whether from polar orbiting weather satellites 23,000 miles above Earth or school bus-sized KH or 'keyhole class' spy satellites keen enough to read large newspaper headlines from space -- proved one of the U.S. military's most powerful weapons (in Gulf War II)," the paper says."If you ask what was the difference between Iraq's army and America's army, the big difference was satellites," John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told the Times.

Allen Thomson, a retired intelligence analyst now living in Texas, said the most important satellite assets in this war were "the unglamorous ones" that supported communications, navigation and meteorology. These include the military's star performer: the Air Force Space Command's behemoth "Milstar" satellites, 10,000-pound switchboards in space that provide secure voice and data communication around the world. The number of satellites of all types used in the war is estimated to be nearly 100.While allied forces were flush with data coming in day and night, Iraqi officers appeared to be operating with very little good information, experts said. At times, the Iraqi leadership was sending orders to units that no longer existed."Our side knew where all of our forces were at any given moment and the other side did not," said Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. "It sounds simple, but it's actually a significant technological achievement."
In January, I wrote about the military's growing dependence on satellites for Wired News. That reliance will only increase, as the Pentagon continues to add to its satellite array. The military recently launched three birds in about a month, from March through early April.THERE'S MORE: Aviation Week has its own ideas about what brought down Saddam.According to the magazine, "The star of the war... was a 'ruthless, staring constellation looking at Baghdad' made up of UAVs, U-2s and other intelligence gathering aircraft that blanketed Iraq for weeks before the actual fighting started."The relentless attacks before the war's official start on Iraqi anti-aircraft systems didn't hurt, either. A month of strikes -- more than 4,000 sorties -- left Iraq's air defense radars "silent for the most part."
"We spent a lot of time taking out SAMs and radars and breaking open fiber-optic vaults, trying to make [Iraqi] command and control more difficult and visible to us so we could hear what they were saying and suck up the information that we needed," said a senior Air Force official. That effort resulted in the tip-off about Saddam Hussein's whereabouts that launched the conflict with a raid on Iraq's senior leadership. "Within 4 hr., we had four bombs down in the bunker," he said.
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