SR-71 BLACKBIRD SUMMARY STATEMENT (Senate - July 29, 1994)

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Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee included funds to establish a modest, 3-plane contingent of SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. When it was retired in 1989, the SR-71 was the only survivable, penetrating, manned reconnaissance system in the U.S. inventory providing photographic and radar imagery and electronic intercept. It remains to this day the only survivable, penetrating, manned reconnaissance aircraft. The other aircraft systems operated by the United States, the U-2 and the RC-135, do not have the speed and altitude to overfly a potentially hostile opponent. Expensive efforts to develop unmanned aerial vehicles are still in development and will not be fielded for years.

This capability is still needed. We needed it in the Persian Gulf war, when battlefield commanders could not get enough imagery from satellites to answer all of their intelligence questions. The United Sstates had to use lower-quality civilian Landsat and SPOT satellite imagery to produce the special maps that were needed to prosecute the war against Iraq. As capable as our satellite systems are, in a crisis the additional capability provided by the SR-71 could prove invaluable.

I have been assured that for $100 million from within the budget request, three of these aircraft could be brought back into service within a year with their existing photographic and electronic sensors. A vital, new radar imaging system would also be included within that amount. This would include a 30-day deployment with approximately 10 operational missions. We believe that this austere capability could be maintained for approximately $50 million per year, and surged if required to support a conflict. In my opinion, this is a very efficient stop gap measure, complementing existing satellite and aircraft systems, to assure that U.S. troops have the capability they need in a conflict.

Some critics of the SR-71 question whether the United States has the `political will' to use the SR-71 against another country, since a decision was made not to overfly Iraq in 1991. I reject the notion that we have learned nothing from that conflict. Far better for the political authorities to have an instrument in hand to use if necessary than to deny them the opportunity to use it by assuming that the nation's leadership will never have the political will to overfly a nation if our intelligence needs, and our combat forces at risk, demand it. Reestablishing a limited contingent of SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft is a prudent move, and one that I fully support.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that following my statement additional material referred to in the statement be printed in the Record.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)


Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, in the last few years, the world has been beset by troubles. One of these troubles has already required the deployment of U.S. military forces in a war against Iraq. Another troubling situation is still bubbling away on the Korean peninsula, sometimes at a low simmer, sometimes looking like it is coming up to a boil. One of the critical lessons we learned from the Persian Gulf war is that, in a threatening situation or during the conduct of a war, a military commander cannot have too much information, too many maps, or too many `looks over the hill' to see what the enemy is doing. The Department of Defense's `Final Report to Congress on the Conduct of the Persian Gulf War' in 1992 noted that `Imagery was vital to Coalition operations, especially to support targeting development for precision guided munitions and Tomahawk Land Attack Missile attacks, and for BDA [bomb damage assessment]. Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm placed great demands on national, theater, and tactical imagery reconnaissance systems. The insatiable appetite for imagery and imagery-derived products could not be met.' The U.S. Defense Mapping Agency had to use Landsat and SPOT data to create maps for the U.S.-led coalition's use in that war.

Mr. President, our national ability to meet that `insatiable appetite' has not improved in the intervening years. The `Final Report to Congress on the Conduct of the Persian Gulf War' went on to note that `The SR-71 could have been useful during Operation Desert Shield if overflight of Iraq had been permitted. In that case, the system would have provided broad area coverage of a large number of Iraqi units * * * During Operation Desert Storm air operations, the SR-71 would have been of value for BDA [bomb damage assessment] and determining Iraqi force dispositions.' It is for this reason that I have again, as I had in a letter to the Secretary of Defense before the war with Iraq, broached the subject of bringing the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft out of forced retirement.

In 1991, my suggestion to then Secretary of Defense Cheney was not adopted. The SR-71 program had been terminated as a full-fledged operational activity involving 12 aircraft in 1990 on the grounds of cost, lack of need due to the end of the cold war, and the promise of follow-on systems then in development. The follow-on to the SR-71 has since then also been canceled. The SR-71 Blackbird remains our sole manned, survivable, penetrating reconnaissance aircraft. The Congress, however, specifically directed that this capability be preserved. In June, 1990, the Secretary of the Air Force directed the Air Force to `place three SR-71A aircraft and six associated reconnaissance sensors and electronic countermeasure suites into long term storage, rather than a `flight ready' status, as a hedge against a protracted conflict some time in the future.' This was a far-sighted move. I believed in 1991 that we should have taken advantage of that foresight, and I continue to believe that we should take advantage of this fortuitous circumstance and

create a contingency capability for the SR-71 in the face of the potential for conflict that continues to exist on the Korean peninsula. Our military forces deserve access to every tool that we can provide, particularly tools of such demonstrated capability and need.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV's, have been touted as a penetrating and survivable follow-on to the SR-71 and, indeed, in a few years they may be developed to that point. Very high expenditures are under consideration for a family of various UAV's, amounting to $2.2 billion over the next five years. The funds for UAV development have come in part at the expense of upgrades and overhaul to other existing airborne reconnaissance platforms like the U-2 and RC-135, which unlike the SR-71 are not survivable over hostile territory. While potentially useful, the current program of UAV development is extremely ambitious and may not be fully attainable in the current constrained budget environment. The SR-71 is a cost effective stop gap that makes use of existing, but still state of the art, equipment to fill an inarguable gap in battlefield intelligence. I do not view it as a competitor of UAV's--I support funding for an effective tactical UAV program.

The SR-71 as an aerial surveillance system complements other `national technical means,' as satellite systems are euphemistically termed. A 1991 report by the Office of Technology Assessment, `Verification Technologies: Cooperative Aerial Surveillance,' cites a 1990 report to the Department of Defense that states `the existence and utility of reconnaissance satellites is accepted . . . Satellite orbits are highly predictable. It is taken as a given by each side that the other will refrain from some activities, which would otherwise by observable, during a satellite pass--once or a few times a day, say for a total of 20 minutes. The long advance predictability of reconnaissance coverage makes it possible to hide, by careful advance scheduling, even very large and elaborate activities. Each side might worry, in the extreme case, that preparations for war or treaty breakout could thus be hidden.' The scheduling and route flexibility provided by aircraft platforms such as the SR-71 make it very nearly impossible to avoid detection. Properly employed, there should be no advance warning of when or where an SR-71 might fly. Given the repute of the North Koreans in concealing their facilities and installations even in peacetime, this flexibility might be essential should tensions escalate or hostilities erupt on the peninsula.

`National technical means' of intelligence collection will remain essential, but have some limitations, as I have just illustrated. Another weakness of current satellite intelligence systems, but a strength of the SR-71, is the ability to provide synoptic broad area coverage of large swaths of ground, needed for monitoring overall enemy force dispositions and for specialized and updated mapping. Prior to the Persian Gulf War, the United States acquired Landsat and SPOT satellite images from which to build maps, because U.S. intelligence systems were swamped trying to monitor Iraqi military activities. Buying Landsat and SPOT imagery for these

needs was a stopgap measure. We might not be so fortunate the next time a crisis arises. Nor may we benefit from six months to prepare for a conflict, as we did during the Persian Gulf conflict. Military reconnaissance missions' requirements for timeliness often exceed the current capabilities of civilian satellite systems. According to a 1993 Office of Technology Assessment report, `The Future of Remote Sensing From Space: Civilian Satellite Systems and Applications,' Landsat satellites pass over any given place along the equator once every 16 days, while SPOT passes over once every 26 days. Each system may require weeks to process orders. The report goes on to state that `existing civilian satellite data are not adequate to create maps with the coverage or precision desired for military use.'

The same report also notes that because other nations control some of the most capable civilian satellite imaging systems, they could in the future deny the United States access to their systems. Additionally, since all countries generally follow a nondiscriminatory data policy, any purchaser can buy imagery at the same price and on the same delivery schedule. This means that in the future, Iraq or other some other belligerent could purchase Landsat, SPOT, and other civilian satellite imagery to prepare their own battle maps for their troops or for their own future cruise missile systems. During the Persian Gulf conflict, both the SPOT and Landsat organizations cut off Iraq's access to satellite imagery, but such cooperation is not assured in the future as more and more companies and countries attempt to enter the satellite imaging business.

The SR-71, on the other hand, could have provided photographic coverage of Iraq in under three hours of flying time. It could have covered the country at regular intervals--daily or every several days, if necessary--to help update battle maps showing the widely dispersed Iraqi troop positions. Such missions might also have helped to reveal other Iraqi activities involving their nuclear, biological or chemical weapons industries that were uncovered only with great effort after the war. With electronic intercept sensors available for the SR-71, Iraqi air defense equipment could have been pinpointed prior to bombing raids. And with a different camera, the SR-71 could have followed bombing missions in to provide post-bombing damage assessments. An existing radar suite allows the SR-71 to support U.S. forces even in bad weather or at night, helping to keep in unblinking eye on every movement of enemy forces.

In any future conflict, the capabilities of the SR-71 would augment support to U.S. combat forces. A limited contingency capability involving three aircraft can be reconstituted for as little as $100 million, and maintained in standby status for under $50 million per year, according to estimates provided by the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office and by the contractor. The contractor is confident enough in these estimates to willingly accept a cap on the amount provided for the reconstitution of this capability. Over $700 million worth of spare parts remain in storage, ranging

from spare engines to spare tires. By basing the contingency aircraft with the NASA-operated SR-71 fleet that is used for scientific studies, additional savings are possible from sharing support equipment. In this scenario, twelve months of operations would include one 30-day deployment in which 10 overflights would be conducted. If or when military tensions escalate, the operating tempo could be readily increased to meet the needs of the local commanders.

More creative use of the SR-71 is possible even while the aircraft remain in contingency status. In March, 1993, for instance, the United States used Landsat and SPOT data to create maps of the former Yugoslavia in order to support airdrops of food and medical supplies to towns and cities under siege in eastern Bosnia. With the greater resolution and finer detail achievable with SR-71 imagery, greater precision in airdrops would have been possible. Similarly creative use of the system is possible in support of humanitarian efforts now underway in Rwanda and Zaire, without drawing national collection systems away from other areas of interest.

Finally, I would note that an overflight by an SR-71 can be a potent signal to a potential adversary of the seriousness of U.S. intentions. Even moving an SR-71 into a region underscores U.S. intentions to support possible military actions by every means possible. It is a mechanism that the President can use selectively to demonstrate national will as a political instrument. Imagine the message received by an adversary when an unarmed, non-hostile SR-71 aircraft sweeps across their country at high speed--a portent of future waves of bombers that could follow. It is a message that no satellite blinking across the night sky can send.

During the period leading up the Persian Gulf war, a political decision was made not to overfly Iraq, despite the potential intelligence that might be garnered for the United States and the coalition forces. But to conclude from that decision as some have that no American political authorities will ever have the `political will' to overfly another country, even when the vital interests of the United States demand it, denies the idea that any lessons were learned from the Persian Gulf war experience. A New York Times article from July 4, 1994, says that `senior officers questioned whether the United States had the political will to use the aircraft against North Korea, its likeliest target.' I reject the assumption that we are incapable of learning from the past. It is not the job of military officers or professional intelligence officials to second guess the political `will' of our elected national leaders. Far better for the political authorities to have an instrument in hand to use if necessary, than to deny them the opportunity to use it by assuming that the nation's leadership will never have the political will to overfly a nation if our intelligence needs, and our combat forces at risk, demand it. Reestablishing a limited contingent of SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft is a prudent move, and one that I firmly believe that we should make.

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Exhibit 1


Committee on Appropriations,
Washington, DC, January 24, 1991.

Hon. Richard Cheney,
Secretary of Defense, Washington, DC.

Dear Mr. Secretary: The need for intense and accurate coverage of the Iraq-Kuwait theater of operations through advanced reconnaissance methods is obviously an important ingredient in our successful limitation of casualties and an early end to the conflict with Iraq. I have been concerned that the decision taken last year to terminate the SR-71 `Blackbird' reconnaissance aircraft has denied the nation an asset which leaves us with a gap in intelligence-gathering that could have been avoided, and might well still be repaired.

I understand that the capabilities of the SR-71 aircraft, in terms of invulnerability to enemy fire, all-weather intelligence gathering, flexibility and speed argue for an immediate review of reinstating several aircraft for use in Desert Storm. In addition, I understand that the cost of reassembling the system, amounting to several aircraft could be held to roughly $100 million, and that at least one operational aircraft could be flying missions in a short time. I certainly feel that such cost would be worth the effort to reinstate a limited system for use in Desert Storm, and would enthusiastically support your efforts to return the SR-71 to service.

I request that you reopen the question of putting a small SR-71 group (1-3 aircraft) back into service at this time, and explore how that might be done expeditiously and with minimal risk. In addition, I request that you examine the possibilities of stationing the group in the Middle East theater in order to reduce costs and increase mission flexibility.

Thank you for your willingness to review this matter.

Robert C. Byrd.



Headquarters, USAF,
31 August 1990.
Subject: SR-71 Storage:

1. Although SR-71 program termination was directed by Congress in Nov 89, subsequent congressional language requested the Secretary of Defense preserve the option of restoring limited SR-71 operations, should the need arise. In Jun 90, the SECDEF directed the Air Force to `Place three SR-71 aircraft and six associated reconnaissance sensors and electronic countermeasure suits into long term storage, rather than a `flight ready' status, as a hedge against a protracted conflict some time in the future. The Air Staff has since reviewed the available options for storage of SR-71 aircraft and associated sensors and defensive systems. To comply with SECDEF guidance, while minimizing initial and recurring costs, AF/CC approved the following game plan.

2. Aircraft and associated systems storage will be accomplished as follows:

a. Provide indoor storage of three aircraft at Palmdale Calif facilities. Provide limited contractor inspection maintenance services to ensure physical integrity of aircraft.

b. Store six of each type complete sensor systems at contractor facility or other suitable location.

c. Continue the Memorandum of Agreement with the 3246 Test Wing, Eglin AFB FL, allowing storage and use of DEF Systems for test purposes, subject to recall for SR-71 use.

3. All remaining SR-71 unique spare parts, oil, hydraulic fluid and support equipment will be retained to support NASA's proposed 500 hour flight test program. In accordance with the transfer loan agreement, these assets will remain subject to recall by the Air Force should a decision be made to reconstitute a limited SR-71 capability. The twenty two remaining spare engines will continue to be stored at Palmdale.

4. Sufficient JF-7 fuel to support the NASA operation will be retained by the Air Force. A minimum of six months lead time would be required to provide JP-7 manufacture, should a limited operational capability be restored.

5. On behalf of the entire Air Staff, we commend all agencies and personnel involved in the worldwide effort to wind down this program and retire a superb aircraft that has served the nation well for many years. It was a tremendous task, carried out in a very timely and efficient manner by all concerned. The final actions outlined above will preserve these primary physical assets without which reconstitution would be impossible.



From Conduct of the Persian Gulf war: Final Report to Congress, Pursuant to Title V of the Persian Gulf Conflict Supplemental Authorization and Personnel benefits Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-25), Appendix C. Intelligence, April 1992



The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) provided useful information concerning Iraqi forces during the 29 January Iraqi attack on Al-Khafji. Iraqi follow-on forces were tracked by JSTARS and destroyed by Coalition air power--north of the Saudi border. Information such as this was provided to ground and air commanders in near-real-time via the Army's JSTARS Interim Ground Station Modules (IGSMs). IGSMs were deployed with Army Component, Central Command (ARCENT) headquarters, ARCENT Forward Command Post, ARCENT Main Command Post, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters, VII Corps, XVIII Airborne Corps, and the Air Force Component, Central Command Tactical Air Control Center.

Just before the Offensive Ground Campaign began, JSTARS confirmed that Iraqi forces remained in their defensive positions against which the attack had been planned. During the attack itself, JSTARS detected the positioning of Iraqi operational reserve heavy divisions into blocking positions in response to the VII Corps advance.

Imagery was vital to Coalition operations, especially to support targeting development for precision guided munitions and Tomahawk Land Attack Missile attacks, and for BDA. Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm placed great demands on national, theater and tactical imagery reconnaissance systems. The insatiable appetite for imagery and imagery-derived products could not be met.

The SR-71, phased out in 1989, was evaluated for possible reactivation to alleviate the imagery shortfall. The SR-71 could have been useful during Operation Desert Shield if overflight of Iraq had been permitted. In that case, the system would have provided broad area coverage of a large number of Iraqi units. however, since overflight of Iraq was not allowed, it would have provided no more coverage than available platforms. During Operation Desert Storm air operations, the SR-71 would have been of value for BDA and determining Iraqi force dispositions. During Operation Desert Storm ground operations, the SR-71 would not have made greater contributions than other platforms, given the speed of the advance. unique aircraft requirements also would have limited potential SR-71 operating locations.



From the Office of Technology Assessment, July 1991


Verification Technologies--Cooperative Aerial Surveillance in International Agreements (Excerpt)


As with collateral intelligence gathering, the potential role for aerial surveillance in cuing or targeting is controversial. It is arguable that using overflights to direct other systems may go against the spirit of an accord; but some types of cuing can reinforce the main goals of an agreement. This is the case when overflights uncover ambiguous activities or objects that are beyond the airborne sensors' ability to resolve. If the inspecting country did not have any other way of determining the legitimacy of its discovery, the result might be unfounded recriminations or an unanswered threat, thus raising tensions or danger. However, if the location of the discovery could be passed on to human inspectors or NTM, the ambiguity might be easily resolved.

But cuing can also be used in a way that is obviously antithetical to the spirit of most agreements: the same information that can localize an ambiguity for further observation may also be used to target the items being observed (or others not related to an accord) for military attack or covert operations. Target information can be specific, e.g., coordinates of a fixed site; or it can be general, e.g., the operational behavior of mobile systems or groups of forces. Aerial surveillance could also be used to provide accurate tactical maps for military or other purposes. These are further examples of how transparency may not be a wholly beneficial objective.

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The utility of aerial surveillance to gather information in support of an agreement is not unique. Many of its features are shared with NTM and OSI. The selection of which monitoring systems to use, and in what combinations, will be determined by the negotiating parties based on the ability of each measure to detect the desired signatures, the synergistic effects of different sensors, the degree of cooperation possible between parties, the capabilities and capacity of NTM, the political advantages of open cooperation, the intrusiveness of the measure, and financial costs.


There is considerable overlap in the potential roles of aerial surveillance and NTM. Both kinds of systems can take imagery from overhead and over wide areas. However, while aerial surveillance as described here is cooperative, NTM is generally unilateral or alliance-based. Cooperative measures can be (and have been) negotiated to enhance NTM capabilities, but the sensors and platforms themselves can operate independently of any agreement.

Among the potential advantages that aerial surveillance holds over at least some NTM assets are greater flexibility, possible real-time physical access to the sensors, direct cooperation between parties, 31 and relative political and technological insensitivity.

An aerial surveillance regime could be negotiated to be more flexible than some NTM, varying flight profiles by timing, ground track, and altitude. As a recent report to the U.S. Defense Department stated.

`The existence and utility of reconnaissance satellites is accepted by both sides. Satellite orbits are highly predictable. It is taken as a given by each side that the other will refrain from some activities, which would otherwise be observable, during a satellite pass--once or a few times per day, say for a total of 20 minutes. The long advance predictability of reconnaissance coverage makes it possible to hide, by careful advance scheduling, even very large and elaborate activities. Each side might worry, in the extreme case, that preparations for war or treaty breakout could be thus hidden.'

With a sufficiently narrow preflight notification period making it impossible to conceal a violation of an agreement before a plane might arrive, aerial surveillance might be able to plug gaps in NTM coverage. Airborne platforms might have the flexibility to adjust their flight profiles to optimize sun and sensor look angles, and to change altitude to maximize a sensor's resolution or field of view. Aircraft might also be permitted to fly under cloud cover or loiter over areas of interest.

In addition, overflights could have the advantage, if negotiated, of real-time interaction between the sensors and the inspectors. An inspector manning a sensing device on a plane could maintain, fine-tune, retarget, or change the focal length of the instrument if something interesting caught his or her attention. The inspector could also-mark and annotate important sightings to facilitate postflight analysis.

And as mentioned above, because observers are in constant contact with host country escorts, a cooperative atmosphere can be nurtured that is wholly missing from NTM. The confidence that arises from this may lay the foundation for more significant accords. And denial of requested flights could signal a less cooperative relationship, heightening vigilance by other means.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, information collected by an overt airborne sensor--particularly if parties inspect or share sensors--could more easily be released publicly to confirm compliance, build general confidence, or support charges of noncompliance. Direct release of NTM data is contrary to government policy and is done so only in the most extreme cases. Even in these cases, the evidence of violation displayed is likely to be degraded to avoid giving away information about which system uncovered the violation and how advanced the NTM sensors really are.

The primary advantage of NTM assets is that they are largely independent of political events and negotiations. If an important agreement is abrogated or if surveillance flights are refused, aerial surveillance could leave a country blind to critical developments. NTM would remain unaffected, because it does not usually depend on the cooperation of the country under observation. NTM employment is also not constrained by sensor-limiting compromises, formal notifications, or flight plans. A second advantage of NTM assets is that they can monitor more than one agreement at a time.

Of course, the choice for the United States and the Soviet Union probably will not be between aerial observation and NTM. The questions are more likely to be: what can aerial observation add to current NTM and how can they interact effectively? According to the NATO Open Skies proposal, aerial surveillance is supposed to `complement' NTM.

Besides filling gaps in NTM coverage and capabilities, overflights might be used to cue NTM to particularly interesting sites and to clarify ambiguous NTM information. Overflights or their notification might also be designed to trigger activity that would be detectable by NTM. For example, NTM might be able to spot a large mobile TLI during its transit from an area to be overflown to shelter elsewhere. In some areas, aerial surveillance might even by used to free up NTM assets for other targets.


Unlike NTM or aerial surveillance, an OSI is an inherently close-up, but local, affair. OSIs, like aerial survelliance, are also cooperative measures, requiring the consent of the inspected state. On-site inspectors can go places and do things that would be impossible for other monitoring systems. For example only an OSI can take radiation measurement of a warhead from close enough to negate concerns over shielding; only an OSI can examine the interior of a closed-out production facility. Yet on-site inspectors are limited in the territory they can cover during a given inspection. A similarity between aerial surveillance and OSI, not shared with NTM, is that they both take place inside the earth's atmosphere and thus can both take part in air sampling. All forms of monitoring, with the right technology, could take pictures and read identifying tags on TLSs.

It is in the areas where aerial survelliance and OSI are dissimilar that they may work best interactively. At a minimum, OSI can cover the declared inspection sites, while aerial survelliance flights (and NTM) survey the potentially vast territory not subject to inspection. If ambiguous or suspicious activities or objects are detected during these flights, an inspection team might be sent to visit the site, perhaps while the aircraft loiters overhead. 42 A broad aerial search could trigger a more time-consuming, but more precise, inspection. Conversely, overflights might be used to examine several inspectable sites at a time.


Until fairly recently, countries with little or no NTM have had to rely on the generosity of the superpowers for a detailed view of the world, including information about the compliance of their neighbors with international agreements. The superpowers' monopoly on advanced NTM limited the quality, quantity, and timeliness of NTM information available to third parties. Yet increasingly, countries have other options: participation in consortia to develop independent NTM or the purchase of commercial imagery from other countries. France, Italy, and Spain are investing in the Helios military reconnaissance satellite system to be operational in early 1994. The United States, France, and the Soviet Union sell relatively low-grade satellite imagery. In the future, international organizations might pool national resources to deploy reconnaissance satellites to monitor agreements or increase global transparency.

Cooperative aerial surveillance might also be used to fulfill the informational need of some countries. With the negotiation of mutual overflights, these countries would at last obtain an independent source of compliance observation and confidence building. If the cost of an aerial surveillance regime remained beyond their reach, they might spread the cost among like-minded countries by maintaining a fleet of common aircraft or by promoting aerial surveillance by international organizations. If they are willing to negotiate the use of an advanced airborne sensor suite, they might even eventually narrow the current informational gap between themselves and the superpowers. This capability will still be limited to overflights of participating states, so participants would still lack the NTM owners' ability to monitor the territory of potential adversaries without their consent.

Granting foreign countries the right to overfly U.S. territory has important implications for the U.S. Government. Such overflights will, to a certain extent, level the informational balance between these countries and the United States, ending an American advantage over all countries except the Soviet Union. How important this leveling is must be determined by U.S. policymakers. It may be the necessary price to get other countries to sign on to important treaties that had traditionally been left to the superpowers to verify. It may also be the price of a more open world. (See table 4-2 in chapter 4 for a listing of the asymmetric advantages and disadvantages of countries negotiating Open Skies.)



From the Office of Technology Assessment, July 1993


The Future of Remote Sensing From Space: Civilian Satellite Systems and Applications


Data from civilian satellites systems such as Landsat, but more notably SPOT and the Russian Almaz, 1

have considerable military utility. They can be used to support:

Footnotes at end of article.

Military operations--For example, the use of Landsat and SPOT data gave the United States and its U.N. allies a marked advantage over Iraq in the Persian Gulf Conflict. The U.S. Defense Mapping Agency used these data to create a variety of maps for the U.S.-led battle against Iraqi forces. More recently, in March 1993, the United States has used Landsat and SPOT data to create maps of the former Yugoslavia in support of air delivery of food and medical supplies to besieged towns of Eastern Bosnia.

Reconnaissance--The recent use of data from civilian satellites for military reconnaissance demonstrates that post-processing, skilled interpretation, and the use of collateral information can make these data highly informative. For this reason, the civilian satellites' utility in reconnaissance exceeds that which might be expected on the basis of ground resolution. 2 The highly conservative rules of thumb normally used to relate ground resolution to suitability for particular reconnaissance tasks underestimate the utility of moderate resolution multispectral imagery.

However, reconnaissance missions' requirements for timeliness often exceed the current capabilities of civilian satellite systems. Landsat satellites pass over any given place along the equator once every 16 days; SPOT passes over once every 26 days. In addition, both systems may take weeks to process orders and military data users generally require much shorter response times. Because civilian mission generally have less stringent requirements than military ones, civilian satellite systems will continue to fall short in this regard unless they begin to cater expressly to the military market or improve revisit time for other reasons, such as crop monitoring or disaster tracking. As noted in chapter 4, one way to increase timeliness without adding additional satellites is to provide sensors with the capability of pointing to the side. SPOT has the capacity for cross-track imaging, and can reimage targets of interest in 1 to 4 days.

Arms Control--Civilian satellite data have limited, but important utility for supporting arms control agreements. Although some facilities have been imaged by civilian satellites, many other arms-control tasks are beyond the capabilities (particularly resolution) of civilian satellites. Their greatest weakness in most military applications--lack of timely response--is of less concern in the arms control arena, where events are typically paced by diplomatic, not military, maneuvers.

Mapping--Mapping including precise measurement of the geoid 3

itself, is a civilian mission with important military applications. These include simulation, training, and the guidance of automated weapons. Existing civilian satellite data are not adequate to create maps with the coverage or precision desired for military use. The military use of data from civilian land remote sensing satellites would be greatly enhanced by improved resolution, true stereo capabilities, and improved orbital location and attitude of the satellite. Military map makers and planners would also find use for data acquired with a civilian synthetic aperture radar system, which can sense Earth's surface through layers of clouds.


Because other nations control some of the most capable civilian remote-imaging satellites, they could deny the United States access to some imagery for political reasons, or operate their systems in ways inimical to U.S. interests. Investment in improving U.S. technical strength in civilian remote-imaging could allay these fears. However, attempting to stay far ahead of all other countries in every remote sensing technology could be extremely expensive, and would therefore be difficult to sustain in an environment of highly constrained budgets for space activities. From the national security perspective, staying ahead in technologies of most importance to national security interests may be enough.

Because all countries now generally follow a nondiscriminatory data policy, 4 in which data are offered to all purchasers at the same price and delivery schedule, foreign belligerents can buy Landsat data to further their wars against each other. These data, coupled with information from the Global Positioning System (GPS), might even be used to prepare for a war (or terrorism) against the United States or its allies. As technical progress continues to improve spatial and spectral resolution, the military utility of successive generations of civilian remote sensing satellites will also improve. Although such uses of satellite data may pose some risk to the United States or its allies, the economics and political benefits of open availability of data generally outweigh the risks.

The wide availability of satellite imagery of moderate resolution, and inexpensive computer tools to analyze these images, broadens the number and types of institutions and individuals with access to information about secret sites and facilities. Such information contributes to a widening of the terms of the political debate over future military policies in the United States and elsewhere.

Because the military value of remotely sensed data lies in timely delivery, the United States could cut off access to data as soon as the countries' belligerent status is made clear, as in the Persian Gulf Conflict where both SPOT Image, S.A., a French firm, and EOSAT, Inc., cut off data to Iraq. In that case, the French were part of the allied team opposing Iraq. However, the United States and France (or another country that operates a remote sensing system capable of being used for military purposes) might be on opposing sides of a future dispute.

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The commercial availability of militarily useful remotely sensed imagery has sparked the interest of many interested in military affairs. Landsat and SPOT images have appeared in the media, and have been used to support news stories about military action or potentially threatening behavior. 5

Individuals who have used these images to make significant deductions regarding military activity include Johnny Skorve, whose photographic explorations of the Kola Peninsula using SPOT and Landsat images fill two volumes; Bhupendra Jasani, who has used SPOT data of the territory of the former Soviet Union to investigate military questions including INF Treaty compliance and reporters for several news organizations. These efforts have shown that the resolution provided by SPOT and Landsat, while poor compared to the rule-of-thumb requirements often stated for some military tasks, is more than sufficient to provide useful and even intriguing military information.

Civilians have also explored the military use (as distinct from utility) of civilian satellites by studying the records of SPOT image, S.A. The corporation does not identify its customers, but its catalogue does list pictures already taken by latitude, longitude, and date. Peter Zimmerman makes a convincing case, on this basis, that SPOT has been used for military purposes.

These investigations of military matters share at least one trait in common: they do not require especially timely data. As described in appendix C, it is lack of timeliness, not of resolving power, that most limits the military use of civilian satellites.


1 In October 1992, Almaz, which had been transmitting data from its synthetic aperture radar, fell back into the atmosphere and burned up.

2 Ground resolution is a useful but simplistic measure of the capability to identify objects from high altitude.

3 The figure of the solid Earth.

4 This principle was originated by the United States when it decided to sell Landsat data on this basis. See U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Remote Sensing and the Private Sector, OTA-ISC-TM-239 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1984) for a discussion of the relationship of the U.S. nondiscriminatory data policy to the `Open Skies' principle.

5 See U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Commercial Newsgathering from Space, OTA-ISC-TM-40 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, May 1987).



From the New York Times, July 4, 1994


Spy Plane That Came in From Cold Just Will Not Go Away in the Senate


Washington, July 1--The sleek black supersonic spy plane called the SR-71 Blackbird is a museum piece, a mighty relic of the cold war gathering dust. So what is $100 million to resurrect the plane doing in the Senate's bill authorizing $263.3 billion in military spending for the coming year?

The bill contains hundreds of millions of dollars for other weapons and programs the Pentagon says it does not want, like money to keep building the $2.2 billion a copy B-2 bomber. The money keeps flowing for many reasons: Keeping a military contractor solvent or defense workers on the job in a powerful politician's home district, for example.

But the renaissance of the Blackbird is a special case, less about pork than about power and prerogative. The will of one man made it happen: Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In reviving the Blackbird, Mr. Byrd appears to have adopted some of the Pentagon's stealthier and more secretive techniques.


Prominent members of the Senate's Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, along with top Pentagon officials, were taken unawares by Mr. Byrd's move, the Senator's aides acknowledge. Vice President Al Gore; the national security adviser, Anthony Lake, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, knew nothing about the plan when they were visited last month by the senior members of the Congressional Intelligence Committees, according to several Congressional staff members.

Neither Mr. Gore nor Mr. Lake nor General Shalikashvili voiced any enthusiasm for Senator Byrd's plan to take the plane out of mothballs and send it flying over North Korea's suspected nuclear sites. The Pentagon believes that its existing satellites and spy planes can do the job.

Senior intelligence officers working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that it would take at least a year to refurbish the aircraft and retrain their crews, that the cost would be far greater than $100 million and that no one in the Pentagon wanted the Blackbirds, other intelligence officials said. The senior officers questioned whether the United States had the political will to use the aircraft against North Korea, its likeliest target, they said.

But the combination of Senator Byrd's prestige, the current worries raised by targeting North Korea and the failure of the Pentagon to produce a secret aircraft to replace the Blackbird have won the battle thus far.


The Blackbird is not built in West Virginia nor do Senator Byrd's constituents depend on Lockheed, the plane's manufacturer, for jobs. But the plane was killed by the Defense Department over Senator Byrd's objections and its resurrection, if approved by Congress, would be a small personal triumph for the Senator.

The story begins four years ago, when Mr. Byrd fought the Pentagon's forced retirement of the Blackbird, a unique aircraft that flew faster than 2,500 miles an hour and used sophisticated cameras to snap pictures of foreign targets. That fight was one of several battles begun in the late 1980's over secret spending for classified programs like the Blackbird's flights over North Korea, China and other lands targeted by United States intelligence.

Mr. Byrd, a Senator since 1959, president pro tempore of the Senate since 1989 and a zealous defender of Congressional prerogatives, joined the battle as a matter of principle.

He contended that the Defense Department, aided by the secrecy that shields classified projects, was refusing to spend huge sums appropriated by Congress for certain programs and flouting Congressional instructions to stop spending money on others. The Bush and Reagan Administrations routinely ignored classified Congressional directives on secret spending, he said in 1990.

When the Pentagon canceled the Blackbird in 1990, citing the huge cost of operating and maintaining the fleet, it assured Senator Byrd and a handful of his senior colleagues on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees that it was working on a very fast, very expensive, very secret reconnaissance plane to be a successor to the Blackbird.

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But that program collapsed after consuming several hundred million dollars, according to members of Congress and their aides. And despite rumors that another successor is secretly in the works, they said, nothing of the sort is on the horizon at the secret Air Force base in Nevada where classified prototypes of state-of-the-art aircraft are flown.

Though no supersonic secret reconnaissance aircraft remain in the nation's arsenal, and by many accounts the Blackbird's ability to target specific sites quickly was sorely missed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have several other ways of taking pictures of foreign soil from the sky, including a variety of classified intelligence satellites and the well-known U-2 spy plane. A multibillion-dollar investment in a new series of hugely expensive spy satellites is under way.

So Pentagon officials were chagrined last week when they read the following language in the Senate's defense authorization bill: `The committee sees no reason, in principle, why the Department of Defense could not also operate the SR-71 in an austere manner.' The committee recommended $100 million to revive three Blackbirds, the bill said. The money was inserted by the subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee Mr. Byrd heads. Senator Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, was also instrumental in moving the idea forward.

The provision now goes to a conference with the House, whose bill does not include the item. Its prospects are uncertain.


Even those who support reviving the Blackbird predict it may be a far more expensive proposition than a mere $100 million.

`It's going to be pretty difficult to do that kind of mission with that kind of money,' said Tom Alison, a retired SR-71 Blackbird pilot who works as a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, which owns one of the planes. `If they didn't feel they could afford it five years ago, then I don't understand why they think they can afford it now.'

But Richard D'Amato the counsel for national security policy at the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the idea was `generated by Senator Byrd because there is a gap in our abilities the unique capability that the Blackbird provides.'

`The idea wasn't generated only by Korea but in like situations, in the Middle East.' he said.

While acknowledging that senior Pentagon officials and many of Senator Byrd's colleagues were `blindsided' by the move--and that many of them maintain that the plane is `an antique, a museum piece'--he said three of the planes could be ready to serve the nation by next summer for $100 million or less.

And $100 million is, as everybody in Congress knows, a mere drop in the world's biggest single pool of public capital, the Pentagon's budget.