Those who cling to the belief that they can somehow stop space from becoming another field of battle in human warfare should pay close attention to the comments of officials in Israel who were frustrated by their inability to stop Hezbollah’s satellite television broadcasts for more than a few minutes at a time.
By switching frequencies and using mobile transmitters mounted on trucks, Hezbollah managed to get keep the Al-Manar satellite TV network broadcasting during its conflict with Israel in Lebanon despite a successful Israel Air Force bombing raid that destroyed the network’s five-story headquarters. Network warfare techniques only briefly allowed Israel to substitute its own programming for that of Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.
The experience demonstrated the effectiveness of satellite TV for propaganda and morale purposes — and possibly even giving direction and orders to those receiving the signals. It also showed how difficult it can be even for a technologically advanced country like Israel to completely shut down a satellite TV operation with ground-based countermeasures.
Israeli officials interviewed for this week’s page 1 story “Inability To Jam Hezbollah Satellite TV Signal Spurs Israeli Research” made it clear that they are determined to find a way to deny Hezbollah — or any other future adversary — the use of satellite TV signals in the future. It is certain to be an important area of research.
The people our reporter spoke with did not elaborate much on what future steps Israel might take to disrupt satellite TV, and at least one official interviewed acknowledged that there are political and other serious consequences to any steps that might damage a commercial satellite or affect the signals of other users not involved in the conflict, even if it is just jamming that does no physical harm to the satellite.
But the potential for war to expand quickly into Earth orbit is clear. U.S. military officials in recent years have increasingly emphasized the importance of having the ability to protect U.S. government and commercial satellites — and the ability to deny future adversaries access to satellites. The recent conflict in Lebanon is sure to heighten their concerns and the similar concerns of military leaders around the world.
International law already prohibits tampering with satellites just as it prohibits interference with civil aviation. But the niceties of law often disappear in the panic of warfare. There are no easy solutions that will protect commercial satellites from the fallout of modern warfare, but the search for one — whether it is new technology or a new global treaty — should now have new urgency.