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Key U.S. Security Policy Issues

Controlling the Spread of Surveillance Satellites
Managing Global Navigation Systems
Collecting Signals Intelligence
Preserving U.S. Commercial Space Launch Capabilities
Coping With the National Security Dimensions of Civilian Communication Satellites
Improving Communications Interoperability in Multinational Coalitions
Managing Information Dimensions Over the Longer Run

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Controlling the Spread of Surveillance Satellites

How far will U.S. producers be allowed to go in offering satellites or imagery with one-meter resolution? From the defense perspective, it would be best if such capabilities were unavailable outside the U.S. The next best outcomes, in descending order of preference are:

  • Sales of individual images from satellites owned and operated by U.S. firms.

  • Sales of real-time bit streams--increased timeliness means greater military applicability--from such satellites.

  • Satellites owned by third parties (who could, unless otherwise limited, sell to whomever they close), but operated by U.S. firms.

  • Satellites owned and operated by third parties that rely on support from U.S. firms.

  • Satellites owned and operated autonomously by third parties.

    The Commerce Department has licensed four U.S. groups to sell surveillance bitstreams. The first, Worldview, offers three meter resolution. The other three groups--led by Lockheed, Litton, and Ball, respectively--offer one-meter resolution. The licenses permit the U.S. government to prevent the capture and transmission of data in emergencies. Although financing remains an issue for each group, Lockheed's consortium is set to receive majority funding from Arabian sources.

    U.S. policy on surveillance satellites is not made in a strategic vacuum. French officials recognize that one-meter imagery could not only imperil French forces, but also threaten the commercial viability of their Spot satellite, which they were allowed to offer only over the initial objections of the French Defense Ministry. Although French government sources have reiterated their opposition to the sale of imagery finer than the five meters that Spot 5 could offer, Matra, which builds France's surveillance satellites, has publicly mulled selling one-meter imagery on the commercial market in competition with U.S. providers. Russia's reaction is more difficult to assess. Moscow dislikes proliferation, but reportedly the same country whose inquiry prompted Lockheed to ponder selling one-meter satellites has turned to pursue a better deal (.8 meter resolution) with Russian sources.

    How long and at what cost could U.S. policy inhibit the flow of surveillance information? Many sensors ostensibly built for environmental monitoring have military uses. Surveillance satellites are becoming more accurate, easier to control, cheaper, and more available. Would foreign access to U.S. image streams inhibit other countries from launching their own satellites? It appears probable that military-relevant satellite imagery will become increasingly available; U.S. forces will have to learn to operate in an environment where they do not have a monopoly on such capabilities.

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    Managing Global Navigation Systems

    As commercial users come to constitute the bulk of the GPS system's beneficiaries, many have expressed nervousness about relying on a DOD-controlled system. Might such worries inhibit beneficial investments that take advantage of GPS in areas such as transportation safety? In December 1993, a joint DOD/Department of Transportation (DOT) task force dealt with two key issues: who would manage and fund the system, and how the needs of civilian users would be met.

    The task force recommended that management--as opposed to operational control--of the GPS be shifted to a joint DOD/DOT executive board that would resolve issues that normal interagency coordination could not. DOD agreed to pay for the normal cost of operating and maintaining the system (roughly $400 million a year, mostly for replacing satellites ending their useful life). DOT would pay for augmentations to the system to support civil navigation needs (such as differential GPS beacons).

    The accuracy issue was thornier. Although 100 meter resolution suffices for some purposes, such as preventing airliners from drifting into hostile airspace, it cannot support close operations such as guiding aircraft into runways, governing port traffic, or intelligent vehicle/highway system applications, which require DGPS. The outcome permitted the Coast Guard to install local correction services that will cover coastal and inland waterways, while the FAA will install similar services for airport use. The issue of global correction services remained unresolved.

    In early 1994, the FAA announced that it would replace most current microwave landing systems with DGPS systems. Will other nations follow? If so, they would have to overcome misgivings about dependence on a system run by the U.S. government, which retains the right to degrade even civilian signals in emergency. If not, however, they face the considerable cost of maintaining their own systems, and international aircraft would have to maintain two systems: one for domestic use, the other for use overseas.

    In common with other areas in this section, trends point to the eventual diffusion of the technologies in question. As other navigation systems emerge, GPS will lose its exclusive place, and U.S. policy will have decreasing relevance over navigation systems investments. Controls can slow down proliferation, but they cannot reverse deep-seated trends.

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    Collecting Signals Intelligence

    Issues here concern the fall-out from the possible widespread deployment of PKE technologies.

    Encryption: Encryption helps to preserve vital national secrets, limit attacks on the nation's information infrastructure, and eliminate security and authentication obstacles to electronic commerce. In the wrong hands, however, it can be used to plan or cover up domestic crimes or overseas military operations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency seek to preserve their ability to intercept and decode domestic and international communications, and thus would like to inhibit the use of PKE to generate unbreakable codes--stopping it altogether may be technically impossible and may raise constitutional issues. Yet neither wishes to impede government use of such technologies.

    Their solution is embodied in silicon as the Clipper chip, an encryption device attached to telephones. Each chip carries a law enforcement access field; this information is divided into two parts, each part escrowed by a separate federal agency. Upon court order, the pair could be recombined, thus enabling government decryption. If established as a standard, the Clipper chip would let government users encrypt and decrypt at reasonable cost, without worrying about interoperability. Moreover, if the Clipper chip sells well, its cost will drop, making it the most cost-effective route to encryption in the private market as well--albeit one with a legal back door.

    The Clipper proposal has been controversial. Escrow arrangements have failed to win complete public confidence; fears of "Big Brother" dominate the media debate on this issue. DES, the previous encryption standard, was extended for five years, but its fixed key-length means that it can eventually be broken, and thus is not a reliable guarantor of private encryption in the long run.

    Will the Clipper policy work? Government sales may permit sought-after economies of scale for the Clipper chip, but the ferocity of private opposition dims the prospects of the Clipper chip coming into widespread commercial use. Foreign governments may likewise shun an encryption technology for which the U.S. government retains a key. Even so, any data communications technology needs standards to ensure interoperability; two users with different encryption methods cannot talk to each other. With the adoption of the Clipper chip, government users have a standard but commercial users do not, thus potentially slowing the development of universally acceptable, interoperable encryption methods. Whether such a delay is good or bad depends on whether the virtues of commercial encryption outweigh the possibility of the diversion of such capabilities into the wrong hands.

    Export Controls: Similar controversy surrounds export controls on encryption software. Legally exportable software with 40-bit keys is 16,000 times less capable than what is sold at home, where the legal limit is 56 bits. Vendors argue that such controls hurt the competitiveness of U.S. software (or forces the quality of domestic software down to the legal limit on exported software), a protest that has stirred Congressional calls for relaxing export restrictions.

    Few doubt that the U.S. in general, and the NSA in particular, retain a marked edge in information security technologies, particularly in codebreaking. However, the rest of the world is catching up fast and, particularly through the Internet, has been able to access codemaking technologies--such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)--as good as if not better than what is available here. (All but the most recent versions of PGP violate U.S. but not overseas patents.) Forcing the global electronic network to take detours around U.S. export prohibitions may not necessarily be in the larger interests of the United States.

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    Preserving U.S. Commercial Space Launch Capabilities

    The history of commercial space launch is a story of continually increasing competition. Although the first technological rival to the United States, the Soviet Union, was not initially active as a commercial vendor, the U.S. monopoly on commercial launch services was breached by France in the early 1980s, China in the late 1980s, Russia after the Cold War ended, and, within a few years, perhaps also by Japan and India. Only a third of the global commercial launch market is now held by U.S. firms.

    The U.S. has, however, taken advantage of the fact that it supplies over two-thirds of all commercial payloads--essentially communications satellites--to persuade China and Russia to restrict their launch rates and limit their price discounts. China agreed to sell launch services only at market prices, and Russia's Proton-based launches go for 92.5 percent of market price. The success of such agreements is open to question. Reports have surfaced of unofficial 30 percent discounts on Chinese launches. In August 1993, the launch picture was further complicated when the U.S. slapped a two-year moratorium on export of U.S. payloads to Chinese launch sites in retaliation for Chinese sales of prohibited military material to Pakistan, (although two satellites were released to export in early 1994). Attempts to renegotiate further restrictions may be politically complicated by the large number of joint ventures being put together between U.S. and foreign companies, such as the recent pact among Boeing, Russia, and Ukraine to use Zenit rockets.

    The U.S. has also taken steps to inhibit Russia's sale of rocket equipment to India. As a result of U.S. pressure, Russia agreed to sell only finished cryogenic engines to India's space program, rather than the technology itself. Without Russian help, India is considered unlikely to produce such engines indigenously until after the year 2000.

    Although the management of U.S. space facilities could be altered to better serve U.S. launchers, otherwise how strenuously should U.S. trade policy serve to bolster the market share of domestic firms? The consistent reliability of the French Ariane, the low wages earned by Russian and Chinese rocket workers, the subsidized determination of Japan to become a commercial launch player, the prospect of India's entry, and the large stocks of military rockets facing conversion, all dim the prospects for U.S. producers of launchers. The idea of using export controls over satellite payloads to stabilize markets for launchers may be counterproductive in the long run by casting doubt on the reliability of U.S. suppliers of satellites. True, U.S. satellite makers have kept European competitors locked in a small niche, and serious competition from Japan has yet to emerge. Nevertheless, the situation is subject to change; for example, at least two studies predict Japan may emerge as a competitive supplier of satellites by the year 2000.

    Can the U.S. launch industry be saved by radical technological changes in rockets or satellites? If technology comes to favor small satellites for some missions--as may be the case for land-mobile communications and surveillance--then small, quick-turnaround launch vehicles may be preferred over large ones. U.S. companies such as Orbital Sciences Corporation, CTA, and Lockheed have a comparative advantage in the technology of small vehicles, despite competition from Russia's SS-25 and Israel's Shavit. Alternatively, the development of a completely reusable launch vehicle could, according to its proponents, reduce the cost per unit mass of lofting a payload into orbit by as much as a factor of ten. This, too, is likely to favor U.S. suppliers.

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    Coping With the National Security Dimensions of Civilian Communications Satellites

    Direct Broadcast Satellite: As is the case with global cellular telephony, DBS raises potential national security issues because it challenges state sovereignty over communications by bypassing national communications monopolies. Affected nations may respond aggressively, and perhaps pursue policies hostile to the world's lines of communications.

    The advent of DBS, notably AsiaSat (with one footprint over China and the other over South/Southeast Asia), portends the proliferation of media whose content cannot easily be regulated by national authorities. How have states in fact reacted? Some, including Persian Gulf states, China, and Singapore, have banned private satellite dishes outright, forcing broadcasts to be channelled through a local cable provider, and thus subjecting them to government control. In China, particularly in the south, the ban is routinely flouted. Malaysia and Thailand, on the other hand, seek to launch their own DBS systems, hoping that few consumers will opt to pay extra for access to unrestricted systems if they can get most of what they want from sanctioned ones.

    DBS broadcasters are, of course, not immune to pressure from national governments. StarTV (which uses AsiaSat), for instance, dropped BBC service from its northern footprint over China. Although the owners deny it, pressure from the Chinese government may have been a factor contributing to this decision. Even Canada has pressed for more Canadian content in transmissions from Hughes's new DBS, by threatening to restrict access to cable for stations that transmit via DBS. Intelsat's plans for DBS service to Latin America were deferred, in part due to concerns over the impact of such service on the cultures of targeted countries. If national governments or political groups see DBS as spreading unwanted social, cultural, or political messages to their population, it may increase their hostility toward the West.

    How long can governments control access to DBS? Tomorrow's antennas can increasingly be blended into walls and other background, thus frustrating bans on their possession. Electronic focussing can frustrate terrestrial jamming. Video compression, which multiplies the number of channels that any satellite can host, enhances the economics of narrowcasting. A billion-dollar investment can yield well over a hundred digital stations, which in turn could be profitably leased for perhaps $2 million a year. At that price, any of several aggrieved national or political groups--Kurds, radical Shiites, Sikhs, Burmese mountain tribes--could afford to broadcast propaganda twenty-four hours a day to wide swaths of territory.

    Allocating the Spectrum for Commercial Satellite Services: If spectrum is not allocated in an orderly fashion, signals would interfere with each other, and radio-based services would be impossible.

    For geosynchronous satellite systems, orbital space must be allocated at the global level, and methods have already been worked out to resolve disputes. An international organization, the ITU, assigns satellites to orbital slots that are separated by one-and-a-half degrees, thus allowing 240 distinct geostationary slots for satellites of a given type, which are accessed by directional antennas. For the most part, controversies are avoided although a few rogue cases persist. For instance, Tonga, a small Pacific island, has tried to reserve far more orbital slots than it needs, and is working a thriving business in the resale market. More seriously, China has maneuvered a satellite into a space where it could interfere with some Japanese transmissions; a similar dispute between Tonga and Indonesia was resolved in late 1993.

    Global cellular communications satellites, on the other hand, move across the earth, with the result that the total spectrum itself must be allocated. Despite the existence of an international conference--the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC)--that metes out broad spectral bands for various uses, the allocation of spectrum to competing satellites has been left for countries to negotiate. This presents few problems if all vendors aspiring to provide global cellular services come from the same country, as is now the case for the two most likely vendors: Motorola's Iridium and Loral's Globalstar are both of U.S. origin. However, once another country--such as France or Russia--sponsors a system, controversy can start.

    In response, aspiring vendors have been making deals with various countries for permission to broadcast within their borders. But when countries are close together, it is impossible to service one without draping signals into another. The European Union, which does not have an aspiring global cellular vendor of its own, has nevertheless been hinting that it objects to systems such as Iridium. If other nations follow, equipment usable in the United States could be prohibited overseas, and the prospects for any global cellular system would be substantially reduced. European objections may reflect a zero-sum mentality concerning economic opportunities, rather than spectrum allocation per se: with each U.S. system up, the prospects for the future European systems are reduced.

    Military Use of Commercial Satellites: With declining defense budgets, and spare commercial transponders available, the logic of putting more U.S. military traffic on commercial satellites is becoming compelling. U.S. commanders already concede that they cannot run operations in remote areas in the absence of commercial satellite transmission capability. The Navy is mulling the use of commercial DBS for broadcasting non-critical information to ships. NATO has reportedly decided to get out of the business of owning satellites, of which it has two at the moment. However, commercial satellites are not inherently secure, even though source-level encryption can reduce the threat of hostile interception. More important, commercial satellites have little protection against jamming and destruction; this has kept DOD's Milstar program going despite its high cost.

    A more serious long-term problem may arise should it become necessary to target satellites used by hostile forces. Knowing U.S. military traffic is being carried by commercial satellites, the best way for a hostile force to preserve its own transmission capacity would be to lease a transponder on the same craft. With encryption ubiquitous, it may be difficult to ascertain that any one transponder was being used for hostile purposes.

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    Improving Communications Interoperability in Multinational Coalitions

    The growing tendency for U.S. forces to engage in multi-national coalitions, coupled with the transition to computer-based information systems, suggests that the ability to transmit information among dissimilar systems will be a growing concern in such missions. This leads to a series of issues at the tactical, security, and global level.

    Tactical intelligence coordination has always been a problem in coalition organizations. The primary barrier remains translating languages. Today's coalitions have developed very structured ways of handling official messages, such as liaison officers. The transition from human language to systems translations will make some tasks easier, and others harder. On the one hand, English has become the lingua franca of the computer world, permitting at least informal communications among systems operators; progress on automatic language translation is also proceeding apace, although only the major languages are being studied in this capacity. On the other hand, computers are more finicky than people. To get two systems to interact requires common protocols at all levels from radio-electronic, to bit-sequencing, packetizing, and encoding, to message formatting, to data-base definitions. For example, the ability of new sensors to see the battlefield in novel ways may be outstripping the ability to communicate these visions in standardized formats.

    Establishing system-to-system links can force communications systems with good security to share secrets with less secure systems. It also reveals what command-and-control systems and their associated sensors are capable of--which, in turn, suggests the strategic imperatives and assumptions that went into their design. Such information may be comfortably shared with established allies, but some members of today's ad hoc coalitions may be tomorrow's opponents. Hence, the case-by-case need to weigh operational efficiency against security arises.

    If there is going to be a GII, the various national communications structures must find ways of passing information back and forth. Although international organizations are busy developing standards, too often the world bifurcates between the U.S. way of doing things and the international way of doing things. Does this mean that the U.S. is out of step with the world, or possibly that--given that U.S. companies sell twice as much software as the rest of the world combined--the world is out of step with the U.S.? The Clinton administration has put harmonization of the world's telecommunications infrastructure high on its agenda, as evidenced by the February 1995 conference of G7 nations on this topic. Whether other nations view such efforts as the high road of promoting global communications or the low road of pushing U.S. exports remains to be seen.

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    Maintaining Information Dominance Over the Longer Run

    DOD's 1994 Annual Report holds that "the exploitation and control of space will enable U.S. forces to establish information dominance over an area of operations...the key to achieving success in future crises or conflicts." All agree that the U.S. will enjoy considerable information superiority over any potential foe even five years hence--but how well will this superiority translate into dominance on the ground? How well will it hold up beyond the short term?

    Events of the last five years suggest that the rest of the world has come to appreciate the importance of space and information, and many nations are striving to improve their capabilities in these media. In the interim, a combination of easy access to data from U.S.-operated systems--surveillance, navigation, meteorology, and early warning--coupled with a stand-by ability to deny such flows in an emergency, may forestall the proliferation of uncontrolled systems.

    However, to the extent that others can piggy-back on commercial, third-party, or even U.S. military capabilities, the U.S. may be limited in its ability to deny others access to such assets. So armed, others may be able to do considerable damage to U.S. interests, even if they cannot prevail in a conventional military sense. If the United States cannot ultimately prevent the diffusion and use of such assets, the U.S. military will have to learn to operate in a transparent environment that it could hitherto impose upon others, but could avoid for itself.

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