Stopped START Means More Spy Sats For The IC?

Posted: November 19, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

From the Washington Times:

In the absence of a U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the U.S. intelligence community is telling Congress it will need to focus more spy satellites over Russia that could be used to peer on other sites, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to support the military.

The demand for these satellites – one component of the “national technical means,” or NTM – has increased the urgency for the Obama administration to get the Senate to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in its lame-duck session.

After the fall of the Soviet UnionU.S. spy satellites began to shift focus from Russia onto sites such as IraqChinaPakistan and India. Today, spy satellites are trained on Iraq and Afghanistan.

This implies satellites hover or somehow put a spot beam on an area continually, like a communications satellite.  Not exactly.  It also implies that we somehow have a NTM verification gap without New START.  Since the NRO is having a pretty busy season, some might think the spy sat constellations are improving.  Still…

At issue are the “low Earth orbit satellites,” which orbit at about 300 miles above the Earth. The satellites’ sensors have improved in recent years to the point that they can take very high-resolution photographs and in some cases at least provide a rough picture of underground facilities with ground-penetrating radar.

The newer satellites can see in the dark with infrared sensors and scan the electromagnetic spectrum for tell-tale signs of nuclear activity and wireless communications.

Opponents of the treaty say that even if New START is ratified, the United States will still need to increase its overhead surveillance of Russia‘s strategic arsenal.

Don’t think agendas—like getting the Senate to ratify New STRAT—aren’t at work.

“Having the inspections [in New START] will allow us to focus our resources on other targets right now,” a U.S. intelligence official told The Washington Times.

For example, here’s a differing opinion:

John Noonan, a former missile-launch officer with experience in START inspections, pointed out that inspections were only one part of how the U.S. tracked the Russian arsenal.

“I refuse to believe that all our intelligence assets that were in place for six decades of the Cold War have all of the sudden been tasked to other targets,” he said. “Inspections are useful, but they are part of a larger intelligence picture.”

Among key concerns for the intelligence community is that it is difficult to get high-resolution coverage over a long period time of suspected missile sites and to search for hidden facilities over large swaths of territory.

This is part of the stick approach, that is, ‘unless we get New START, we’re going to have to spend a lot more money on spy sats.’

Another aspect of this approach was the threat to withhold funding for nuclear modernization unless New START is ratified.  The recent carrot was to add about $4B to the proposed nuclear modernization effort.

Unless I’m mistaken, New START is silent on mobile systems which can defeat both inspections and National Technical Means.

  1. H. Nelson says:

    START treaty inspections cannot be relied upon anyway, they are mostly for show. If they know we are coming, it’s not hard to hide clandestine assets.

  2. […] Stopped START Means More Spy Sats For The IC? – Songs of Space & Nuclear War […]

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