Space: February 11, 2004

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In history, some things just sneak up on you. Dependence on space satellites is one of those things. The U.S. Department of Defense currently has some sixty satellites in orbit (some are classified, so the exact number is always murky.) The services provided by these satellites (and several commercial satellites leased during the most intense periods of the Iraq fighting) were indispensable. GPS satellites not only kept everyone from getting lost, but guided the latest generation (JDAM) of smart bombs. Reconnaissance satellites not only took pictures, but monitored electronic signals (messages, radars, and so on). Weather satellites monitored all those sand storms. Early warning satellites watched for the launch of ballistic missiles. Communications satellites were responsible for the success of Blue Force Tracker (so all U.S. troops knew, at all times, where other U.S. troops were) and the battlefield Internet communications system. Take the satellites away and coalition troops still would have won in Iraq, but at greater cost and aggravation. Without the satellites, it would have taken much longer to defeat the Taliban. The U.S. Air Force Space Command has 40,000 personnel (26,000 military and civilians, plus 14,000 contractors), in addition to those 60 satellites, ground based ICBMs and all military satellite design, construction and launching. Some 500 Space Command people went with the troops to the Middle East to help handle communications with the various satellites. Space Command was set up in 1982 when it was realized that there were a growing number of space based programs and it made sense to put them all in the same organization.

 


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