Iraq Jamming Incident Underscores Lessons about Space
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2004 As the Air Force prepares to observe its 57th birthday Sept. 18, the nation's youngest military service continues to keep a sharp eye on the future.
When anti-coalition forces in Iraq used jammers last year to thwart global positioning system precision-guided munitions in that theater, it represented a new but not unexpected challenge for the U.S. military: the first time an adversary challenged its dominance in space.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said the threat which the Air Force quickly squelched using GPS-guided munitions didn't come out of the blue.
"We had been waiting for this to happen and wondering when someone would finally do it," he said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service. "This was the first time that we could point to something in an unclassified way and say, 'See, someone is trying to interfere with our ability to use space to get the effects we desire.'"
Roche said the attempt to disrupt GPS-guided weapons demonstrates the world's understanding of the importance of space to the U.S. military for operations ranging from navigation and precision targeting to communication to weather assessments, intelligence and battle-damage assessments.
"If the opponent has any brains at all, that opponent will say, 'Well, if it means that much to them, let's see what we can do to disrupt it, to deny them the use of space,'" the secretary said.
Roche said the incident, although quickly controlled, underscored important lessons for the Air Force. "It brings home the fact that we have to think of space not as something where we acquire hardware, launch it and make it work, but that we are going to have to protect it," he said.
The incident also raised a red flag about overreliance on space capabilities or any other capability in the Air Force's "portfolio," Roche said.
By focusing on its full range of capabilities, he said, the Air Force will be better positioned to maintain air and space superiority. "That is the portfolio that will beat an opponent every time," he said, "because they just can't deal with us everywhere, in every system."
While cautioning against putting too many eggs into its "space capabilities" basket, Roche called space "an increasingly fascinating area of warfare" that he said will become even more so in the future.
"I tend to describe it as three-dimensional chess," he said. "Our space warfare in the future is going to be very, very intellectually stressing, and it is going to be an exciting area where we need increasingly to integrate our space capabilities with our terrestrial capabilities with our air-breathing aircraft."
The result, he said, will be a "portfolio of systems that can work in a joint environment and provide the right kind of effects to the people who are fighting the battles."