US Satellite Jamming System
Having quietly developed and deployed the Counter Communications System (CCS), a land-based system designed to block a potential enemies satellite communications, the US Air Force (USAF) already has plans to improve the CCS, as well as develop a new system for locating enemy satellite jammers. The CCS was built by Northrop Grumman, became operational in 2004 and is housed in a transportable unit, similar in appearance to a mobile satcom terminal. Using radio frequency interference, the CCS is designed to give theatre commanders the means to jam, but not destroy, an adversary’s communications satellites.
The USAF is already planning a second generation CCS, known as CCS Block 20, which will remedy a number of deficiencies identified in the current CCS. In particular, the improvements planned for CCS Block 20 will include an increased frequency range and the ability to conduct a greater number of simultaneous jamming engagements. Current plans call for the CCS Block 20 to be built and deployed by 2009, the exact number of systems that are planned is unknown.
To date the CCS is the USAF’s only publicly acknowledged system which is designed to limit an adversary’s ability to operate their space-based assets. Although the CCS is designed to do non-permanent damage to other countries Satcom systems, many observers believe that the USAF still retains the ability to permanently damage or destroy satellites in low earth orbit using ground-based lasers, but refuses to publicly acknowledge the existence of this capability in this area in the hope that other countries will not feel compelled to develop similar systems. However, crippling a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit some 23,000 miles from the earth is another matter entirely, but is feasible provided the earth-based laser has sufficient power or a lower powered laser is employed from earth orbit.
Having developed their own Satcom jamming system the USAF has turned its attention to acquiring a system to locate devices that are jamming US communications systems. Under an initiative known as the Radio Frequency Awareness Theatre project, officials at the USAF Air Warefare Battlelab at Mountain Home Air Force Base are attempting to identify commercially available systems that could be used to pinpoint devices that are interfering with US communications links between satellites and ground stations. The system will need to be easily deployable, highly automated and modular and will need to be capable of being operated remotely whilst feeding its data to the services overall operational picture of space. In 2004 the USAF tested a system known as the Satellite communications Interference Response System (SIRS) that used computer equipment and two 4.5 m C-, Ku and X band transportable antennas in a Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment and the new system will build on the lessons learnt during this exercise.
As countries such as Iran make plans to acquire communications and reconnaissance satellites, the USAF has recognised that these systems are legitimate targets for attack in any potential conflict. However, once an overt sitcom jamming capability is acquired, surely the next logical step is the development of a covert capability and some individuals within the current US administration might consider this an acceptable and legitimate weapon in the global fight against international terrorism. Whatever happens the USAF counterspace mission is likely to be an area of the defence vote that will continue to attract additional funding and increased capabilities, only some of which may actually be acknowledged.