Space: December 11, 2002

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While the U.S. has the best network of spy satellites on the planet, U.S. forces don't make effective enough use of them to be really useful in combat. During the 1999 Kosovo campaign, the Serbs knew that it took about 18 hours after a U.S. recon satellite spotted something for American bombers to show up. The Serbs avoided damage by simply moving their armored vehicles, and other worthwhile targets, every 10-12 hours. Mindful of that, the U.S. Air Force is equipping controls, and combat, aircraft with satellite communication equipment so that the pictures, and other data, from the spy satellites can be quickly moved from the satellite to combat headquarters and bombers themselves for immediate action. This was the lesson of the Afghanistan campaign. If you don't hit a battlefield target quickly enough, it will just move. But this is an old problem, which spy satellites and combining intelligence organizations (in the two decades after World War II) only made worse. During World War II, it was found that the only useful way to get moving battlefield targets was to send out low flying fighter bombers to spot the targets, and hit them right away. But as fighter bombers became more expensive (and fewer in number) this tactic became too expensive. Now, because of satellite communications, we are getting back to where we were in World War II. 

 


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