The U.S. Army has deployed a new system

to help determine whether U.S.

space-based capabilities are under attack.

Known as Eagle Sentry, the system is primarily focused on interference with

commercial communications systems used by the military, according to Col. Tim Coffin, commander of the Army’s first space brigade.

While most of the attention given to monitoring what happens in space has centered on locating and tracking objects in

orbit, studying the electrons that pass through space is as important to satellite operators as watching ocean currents is to the Navy, Coffin said.

Many of the details about Eagle Sentry are sensitive, but Coffin described it as a ground-based system that was deployed for the first time on the East Coast of the United States in February 2007. The military was pleased with its performance, and in

fall 2007 deployed a second system in

Europe, which has the ability to monitor communications activity

in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said during a Feb. 5 interview.

U.S. Strategic Command sets priorities for the use

of the Eagle Sentry systems. The Army has been working closely with Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component CommandSpace and its Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations on the matter, Coffin said.

Eagle Sentry is used to support Army as well as joint operations, Coffin said. The system is helpful in pinpointing and characterizing interference, which can come from a space weather event like a solar flare, friendly forces unintentionally jamming each other

or enemy attack.

While there are companies that provide similar services on a commercial basis, the military wants to own systems like Eagle Sentry because they can be more responsive to its needs on short notice, Coffin said. There

also may be instances where the Army might not want to bring another contractor into the loop about issues with the satellites that it is using, he said.

The military also has a similar capability under development called the Rapid Attack Identification and Reporting System (RAIDRS), which Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., is building for the Air Force. RAIDRS is expected to be deployed for the first time in December, according to Air Force officials.

However, Eagle Sentry was deployed as U.S. Strategic Command sought immediate measures to improve its ability to protect the space capabilities that U.S. troops rely on, Coffin said. Eagle Sentry systems could continue to play a role, with possible additional deployments, after RAIDRS becomes operational to complement RAIDRS focus on interference with

military-owned satellites, he said.

Each Eagle Sentry system costs about $2 million to build, depending on existing infrastructure in the area that can be leveraged, Coffin said. The first system took about nine weeks to set up, and the Army

currently is studying the value of a mobile variant that could be deployed on shorter notice, he said.

The 1st Space Brigade has been able to operate the Eagle Sentry systems with existing personnel, which has helped minimize expenses, Coffin said. However, this has reduced the brigade’s flexibility in terms of sending people to training sessions or to use as part of backup crews, an issue that it is having across the systems that it operates, he said.

Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank, said

she was pleased to hear that the Army is finding measures to improve space security that do not break the bank or raise international

concerns like space weapons.

“Every U.S. military effort that can be made in the near term to improve space situational awareness is worthy and necessary,” Hitchens said.