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Defining Trends

New Communications Architectures Are Spreading
Codebreakers Are Having Difficulty Keeping Up With Codemakers
U.S. Superiority in Navigation Communications Remains, But May Diminish
The U.S. Lead i n Space-Based Surveillance is Eroding

New Communications Architectures Are Spreading

The cornerstone of the GII is the world's interconnected telephone system. In rich nations, phones can be found in almost every home and office. In poorer nations, phone ownership is rising fast, thanks in part to large infrastructure projects, such as those underway in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mexico. Although the world phone system is still largely analog, it supports not only voice transmissions, but increasingly fax transmissions, data transfers, and--indirectly--corporate, military, and other global networks. Such services are rapidly growing in importance; for example, voice transmissions now make up less than half of all trans-Pacific traffic.

Broadcasting, which comprises the balance of the GII, is internationalizing much more slowly, and in its traditional forms continues to be predominantly an intra-country affair, except for stations located near national borders and a smattering of political and pirate stations.

Although today's architectures will continue to play a predominant role for some time, new architectures are spreading rapidly. The world's phone and broadcasting systems are becoming digital, possibly convergent (for example, phone service over cable), and unquestionably richer with new services. Digitization makes information more fungible and manipulable; data reduced to bits and bytes can be more easily acquired, indexed, referenced, and transformed within and among sources. As for new services, three merit description because they cross national boundaries: direct-broadcast satellite (DBS), global cellular, and the Internet.

  • DBS already serves European, Japanese, and other Asian audiences; witness, for example, Ruport Murdoch's StarTV. True U.S. service started in late 1994. Hitherto, DBS has been held back by the limited number of channels available and the large size and cost of the dishes required for reception. Refinements in signals compression have multiplied the number of channels available from each transponder by roughly six; spot-focussing and other satellite technologies allow the next generation of DBS dishes to be just eighteen inches across, and to cost just seven hundred dollars (in the U.S.).

  • Global cellular communications, supported by large constellations of satellites, will offer services not only to remote locations, but also under circumstances not dictated by local phone systems. Among the candidate systems are Motorola's 66-satellite Iridium constellation, Loral's 48-satellite Globalstar, the Inmarsat-P constellation (20 to 36 satellites), plus others proposed but further from being financed. Supplemental data-only services are being developed by systems such as the 36-satellite Orbcomm constellation. Satellites are already being employed for truck fleet location, and for maritime communications.

  • The Internet is a quarter-century old, but it has only recently been made generally accessible. Rapid growth overseas, coupled with the systems's ability to handle large data flows, portends greater access to Western data by countries otherwise poorly served by scientific and technical facilities. Owing to the chaotic nature of the Internet, it may well become a conduit for sensitive data flows--such as software imports and exports--beyond the reach of sovereign authorities.

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    Codebreakers Are Having Difficulty Keeping Up With Codemakers

    One area of historic U.S. superiority is signals intelligence--the ability to extract information from an opponent's radioelectric signals. This superiority is based on the quantity, strength, and placement of U.S. listening devices, plus the computational power behind U.S. codebreaking efforts. Allied code-breaking skills may well have decided Midway and D-Day, the key battles of World War II's Pacific and Atlantic campaigns, respectively.

    Historically, the contest between codemakers and codebreakers has alternately favored first one side then the other. In the last decade, this contest has broken in favor of codemakers. Signals, for example, are becoming harder to pick up thanks to digital technology, frequency-hopping and spread-spectrum technologies, plus the replacement of microwave with optical fiber for long-distance communications.

    New technologies will also confound those who can manage to catch such signals. Common techniques, such as the triple-DES (data encryption standard), can produce unbreakable codes, but require covert ways of passing keys around. A newer technology, PKE (public-key encryption), keeps information secure even if locking keys are passed around in public, since unlocking keys are private. True, codebreaking mainframes and supercomputers are getting better every year, but codemaking computers--including PCs and workstations--are improving even faster, enabling the creation of ever longer and thus more secure keys with the same amount of effort. Thus, codebreaking is getting harder all the time.

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    U.S. Superiority in Navigation Communications Remains, But May Diminish

    U.S. superiority in navigation arose in large part from a $10 billion investment in the global positioning system (GPS). GPS offers two services, one for civilian use (originally accurate to 54 meters; since selective availability went into effect--a deliberate decision intended to give U.S. forces a larger edge--accurate to 100 meters), and the other for military users (accurate to 18 meters). The latter enabled U.S. forces to operate effectively in Iraqi desert that was previously considered virtually untrackable. GPS receivers, initially costing a few thousand dollars, can now be bought for a few hundred. Over the next three to five years, receivers are likely to become faster, cheaper, smaller, and capable of taking data from several systems simultaneously. They already have been integrated into the world's maritime, air, and ground transportation infrastructure. The computerized in-vehicle mapping systems that may soon be available in automobiles are but one innovative new application.

    Differential GPS (DGPS) developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permits measurements accurate to within two meters or less. Russia's Glonass system, due for completion in late 1995, will provide an alternative or complement to GPS; receivers capable of picking up six GPS plus six Glonass satellites have already been introduced. Still more signals capability will become a feature of proposed future constellations of low-earth orbit communications satellites.

    For the time being, few if any potential U.S. military opponents have the ability to destroy GPS satellites. At the same time, commercial signals are easier to jam than are military signals available only to U.S. and other friendly forces. This is due to anti-jam protection in the signal itself (e.g. encoding) as well as in the receivers used (e.g. directional antennas).

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    The U.S. Lead in Space-Based Surveillance is Eroding

    Similar, if less extensive levelling, is taking place in space-based surveillance, for many reasons:

  • With the Cold War's end, the U.S. is somewhat more willing to show allies, for example, the Israelis, its imagery.

  • The resolution of commercial imagery is continuing to improve (see chart). Landsat 7 is scheduled to triple the resolution of the ill-fated Landsat 6, which itself represented a doubling of the resolution of Landsat 5 from 30 to 15 meters, (panchromatic). France's Spot 5, due for launch in the late 1990s, will also feature 5 meter resolution, down from 10 meters.

  • Russian imagery, some of which can resolve details down to 2 meters, is coming onto the market; however, its images are historical rather than near real-time.

  • Several nations are hoping to join the U.S., Russia, France, and China in owning their own surveillance satellites. Israel, Japan, and India are three recent examples. Taiwan and both Koreas are also contemplating systems. French-built satellites are improving: its military Helios satellite, slated for 1995 launch, boasts 1 meter resolution capability.

  • Concerns over global warning and other large-scale environmental phenomena are prompting a slew of environmental monitoring satellites. Although most feature broad coverage and very low resolution, others--such as the Japan Earth Resources Satellite (JERS) and Europe's Earth Remote Sensing (ERS)--offer militarily useful 20 meter resolution via synthetic aperture radar. Canada's forthcoming Radarsat goes down to 10 meters.

  • Finally, within the last few years, several U.S. companies have requested permission to launch surveillance satellites capable of 3-meter and even 1-meter resolution; overseas competitors from France and Russia are unlikely to allow U.S. companies the market to themselves.

    Technologies driving progress in space-based surveillance include electro-optics similar to those found in camcorders, and software that can sharpen fuzzy pictures and compress imagery. Recent launches by the Ballistic Missile Defense Office (BMDO) of Clementine and Multiple Sensor Technology Integration (MSTI) have shown that light, medium-resolution (5-30 meter), multi-spectral satellites can be launched in less than eighteen months for under $80 million.

    Combining space-based imagery and GPS makes precision strikes easier and less expensive than would be the case with other technologies, such as the digital scene recognition that is employed by the U.S. in cruise missiles. While such technologies do not offer a perfect substitute for the complicated guidance systems used in U.S. precision guided munitions, the diffusion of access to such technologies does put U.S. fixed assets at increased risk. To be safe from such threats and to recover the secrecy it enjoyed during the Gulf War, the U.S. would somehow have to prevent all third-party imaging satellite data from getting to anyone unofficial; once such data leaves secure hands, the U.S. military might as well assume that an enemy can get it.

    The number of nations capable of launching significant payloads into space has also increased. Ten years ago, only the U.S., the Soviet Union, and France could put a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit. In the mid 1980s, China joined the club. In 1993, Japan followed, and India is only a few years behind. Many more nations--Israel, Brazil, South Africa, Korea--could loft medium-sized, several hundred-pound payloads into low-earth orbit within five years, if they chose to do so.

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