Space: August 6, 2005

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  Apparently it's rather difficult to leverage some of  the American  orbital reconnaissance assets to support operations on the ground. When NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) was established, its primary mission was strategic intelligence. So while NRO lofted satellites with increasingly sophisticated capabilities (though whether or not it's possible to read license plates remains a mystery), no one seems to have given much thought to using the data to support time critical tactical operations. This was partially the result of  Cold War obsession with the treat of massive Soviet conventional or nuclear attack. But as that threat faded in the early 1990s, the failure to think about possible tactical uses of NRO resources does not seem to have arisen, probably because of bureaucratic inertia.

Nevertheless, it appears that over the past few years, the Department of Defense, and the various services, who do have recon birds of their own, have not only become aware of NRO's superior capabilities, but also began working on ways to make use of the available information on a timely basis. Rumor has it that NRO has recently begun sharing information with military commands on a sufficiently timely basis to enable it to be used for tactical planning and decision making. 

The NRO has always been a very secretive organization, and the NRO would like to keep it that way. This is because if the exact capabilities of the NRO satellites were known to hostile groups, there are ways that the NRO birds could be fooled. In the past, the capabilities of older NRO satellites were discovered by Russian spies, and, sure enough, the Russians quickly came up with techniques to diminish the abilities of the American spy birds. As a result, NRO makes the combat troops jump through some hoops before they get the (often real time) high tech space reconnaissance data. The troops aren't complaining, for this "spy in the sky" stuff is the kind of capabilities previously only seen in movies and novels. 

 


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