A broad review of major intelli gence and reconnaissance programs being conducted by the Pentagon and the intelligence community could increase cooperation between the two and result in trade-offs between space and airborne programs, analysts and observers say.
One outcome of the examination, which is said to include both open and classified programs in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) area, could be new and increased uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said long-endurance UAVs could prove advantageous in situations where piloted airplanes and satellites have limitations.
Citing the example of the Global Hawk UAV, which can operate at an altitude of 20,000 meters and stay aloft for 24 hours, Cambone said, “Its advent will change the demand … as people realize that long-dwell capabilities have certain advantages over the aperiodic visit by a satellite or an airplane.”
Cambone and Mary Margaret Graham, the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, are examining the near- and long-term surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the entire U.S. government, Cambone said in a meeting with reporters June 13.
Some of the study’s early findings would be used to influence decisions in the 2008 budget, due to Congress next February, he said.
John Pike, defense and space analyst at Globalsecurity.org, a military information service, said the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are operating a fleet of secret, stealthy UAVs that could prove an attractive substitute for some missions currently conducted by satellites.
For example, persistent surveillance of the Taiwan Straits could be better performed by a stealthy UAV that can stay in place for 24 hours, particularly when China is carrying out amphibious exercises in the region, Pike said. Gaps of an hour or more in satellite surveillance of the area — when a satellite is in Earth’s shadow or simply between orbital passes — could prove critical if Beijing surprises Taipei with an attack, he said.
Some missions being planned for the Space Radar and secret imaging satellites could go to stealthy UAVs, he said.
Lawmakers concerned about the cost of the Pentagon’s planned Space Radar — a constellation of satellites that is expected to collect high-resolution imagery and detect moving objects in all weather conditions and in darkness — have asked defense and intelligence officials to study how these satellites will fit with other ISR platforms.
One congressional source hoped the review would lead to a cost-sharing plan for the Space Radar between the intelligence and military agencies. The Space Radar is a joint Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office effort, but the agencies have sparred over funding and requirements.
The report accompanying the U.S. Senate version of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act recommended a $66 million reduction to the Air Force’s $266 million request for the Space Radar , pending resolution of the differing approaches to the program by the Pentagon and intelligence communities.
Delays and cost increases have been a longstanding problem with satellite programs, as with many high-tech weapons.
The review of satellite and airborne programs comes as the Pentagon and the intelligence community are trying to find ways to work together.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created by the Intelligence Reform Act of 2005, and the director now serves as the principal intelligence adviser to the U.S. president, a role previously assigned to the director of central intelligence.
Though the director of national intelligence is the top U.S. intelligence official, the Pentagon — including its agencies and the military services — controls nearly 95 percent of the intelligence budget, most of which goes toward technical collection .
The Pentagon’s intelligence activities include those of the four military services and the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Cambone played down the differences between the Pentagon and the intelligence community and dismissed concerns that the Pentagon is getting into spying under the cover of preparing the battlefield. “There isn’t an issue we have engaged in where we haven’t found a way to work through,” he said .
Even when the Pentagon has led the way in defining the technical collection means, such as satellites and other platforms, “recipients of collection today aren’t going to fault the direction,” he said. “The things that [the Defense Department] wants to collect are of no less relevance to the CIA in the global war on terror.”
He cited the use of drones and UAVs for surveillance as an outcome of the push from the Pentagon since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But these systems are now widely used by the CIA to track terror suspects, and in some cases armed drones have fired missiles at targets.