Jeffrey LewisIraq and GPS Jamming

The Defense Department has been pointing to Iraq/’s use of GPS jammers to justify a much more significant investment in counterspace capabilities. No exception is today/’s American Forces Press Service release under the headline, “Iraq Jamming Incident Underscores Lessons about Space.”

Sounding just a little too excited, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said:

We had been waiting for this to happen and wondering when someone would finally do it. 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.”

What is only briefly mentioned is that the US military had zero problem dealing with Iraq/’s GPS “jammers.” Here is how a “senior defense official” described the situation:

Q: There have been reports about Iraq purchasing GPS jammers and possibly putting them around. Is that a concern as far as targeting is done? And are you confident that the military has overlooked it and gotten past it?

Senior Defense Official: Well, GPS jammers don/’t affect laser- guided weapons, so–and GPS jamming doesn/’t affect electro- optically-guided weapons. So, what I/’m really saying is we have a broad enough capability that I/’m not worried about it.

Now, to the question of GPS jamming, it/’s certainly something we have to acknowledge is a capability, but I think we have paid attention to that and we/’re not terribly concerned.

He sounds terrified. In fact, the US military wasted all the Iraqi jammers within a few days of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF started on March 20; all the jammers were gone by March 25). You can watch a grainy video of a PGM slamming into one of the jammers in Iraq.

So one might draw the conclusion that foreign counterspace capabilities are no big deal and that scarce defense resources would be spent elsewhere. But not so fast kemosabe. Check out this spin:

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.

Wasn/’t “protecting it” what we just did–installing anti-jamming equipment on the JDAM for the next war and wiping out the Iraq jammers in this one? Note the spin, though–this anecdote suggests other states will pursue counterspace capabilities.

This kind of generalization, hasty as it is, is an important argument for the space hawks because it turns out there are virtually no threats to US space systems that aren/’t at least twenty years old. At least that/’s what I/’ll be saying in the next issue of Arms Control Today.