Space may be the final frontier – at least for now, but military experts say one thing for sure is that it is the next frontier in the war on terrorism.
Speaking at the 18th annual Space Symposium at the Broadmoor last week, military and civilian experts said satellite technology is so refined that in many cases it is unnecessary to use ground troops to fight battles. For example, photographs taken by satellites can reveal detail down to less than one foot.
One Colorado company struggling financially before the Sept. 11 attack on the United States is Longmont-based Digital Globe. It suffered through two satellite failures, but successfully launched its “QuickBird” satellite last fall. The timing could not have been more fortuitous.
“Our imagery can be used as a guide to help the military, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration), and city planners,” said Herb Satterlee, Digital Globe’s chief executive officer.
In fact, Digital Globe’s competitor, Thornton based Space Imaging, provided some of the first satellite images of the World Trade Center and Pentagon following the terrorist attacks.
Another speaker at the “Space Versus Terrorism” conference, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral James D. McArthur Jr., said detailed satellite pictures showed al-Qaida strongholds and helped aim missile strikes. U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan depend heavily on satellite telephone links during the fighting, he added.
“We’re talking a whole new depth of information, and a lot of it comes from space, McArthur said.
Speaker Joanne Maguire, vice president of business development for California’s TRW Space and Electronics, said the United States must use space technology to help prevent another terrorist attack.
“Clearly the imperative for our nation is to be aware of these weapons of mass destruction and to pinpoint their sources,” Maguire said. “Once we identify those sources, we can then use the persistence of our space assets and monitor them very closely.”
However, Raytheon Company vice president Hugo Poza said capturing huge amounts of data matters little unless government agencies find better ways to share vital information. He said Sept. 11 would not have happened if key information had been shared.
“Any number of systems we have could have prevented Sept. 11,” Poza said. “What caused Sept. 11 was the not sharing of information that was available to all of us.”
Poza said the attackers were identified within hours of the assault, but then months later the Immigration and Naturalization Service cleared two of the attackers for visas to attend the Florida flight school where they learned how to fly the jets used in the attacks.
“Today we do everything independently,” Poza said. “We do fingerprinting independently of facial recognition and a few months ago we didn’t allow ourselves to share the data, never mind getting the technology to put it all together.”