News


Subject: India evaded sypsats? 
From: [email protected] (Allen Thomson)
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 

 
   There have been several explanations offered as to why
the US missed signs that the Indians were going to conduct
nuclear tests on May 11, ranging from dereliction of duty on the
part of people in Washington to a masterful Indian denial and
deception (D&D) program. Part of the D&D explanation involves
good Indian knowledge of US reconnaissance satellites, allowing
them to schedule nefarious activities for the times the
satellites weren't overhead or were blinded by sandstorms -- viz:
 
 
   Indian nuclear tests cloaked in "sandstorms and secrecy"
   NEW DELHI, May 12 (AFP)
   [EXCERPTS]
   India's surprise nuclear tests were cloaked in "sandstorms
   and secrecy"...
   The Indian Express newspaper said the three underground
   explosions triggered in the northern desert state of Rajasthan
   were "conducted without anybody, the satellites or the spooks,
   getting wind of it.
   "The fact that India has always tested in May is of enormous
   significance," it said.
   The daily, quoting defence sources, said the month of May
   thwarted spy satellites because the prevailing winds "create
   serious sandstorms."
   It said the dust haze lasts for days on end, denying the
   satellites a clear view. "Even tyre tracks, usually a great
   signature of activity, get obliterated very soon.
   "Further, infra-red sensors, one of the more potent weapons
   in the surveillance game, have a problem picking out such
   activity, particularly in daytime when desert tempratures soar
   up to 50 degrees celsius."
 
 
   India able to evade satellites
   CIA intelligence was good, but deception was better, says
   nuclear researcher
   By John Diamond
   Associated Press  Sunday, May 17, 1998
   [EXCERPTS]
   WASHINGTON -- Easily evaded spy satellites and a failure to heed
   clear warnings contributed to the CIA's failure to foresee
   India's nuclear tests, observers say...
   Some nuclear experts credit India with knowing when to hide from
   U.S. spy satellites rather than American spies being asleep at
   the wheel...
   R.R. Subramanian, a nuclear physicist with New Delhi's
   independent Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, said
   hiding preparations for the tests was merely a matter of
   choosing the hours when the satellites were looking elsewhere to
   move the necessary people and chemicals.
   CIA Director George Tenet told lawmakers in closed session that
   India deliberately chose a period of frequent sandstorms as the
   time to conduct the underground blasts. Those sand clouds would
   effectively blind the two [sic] KH-11 "Keyhole" photo-imagery
   spy satellites.
 
 
   While it would be necessary to get local weather reports or
metsat pictures to check the sandstorm part of this, it turns
out to be possible to do an analysis of US spysat coverage for
the days leading up to the test.  Orbital elements for the three
(not two) "Kh-11"-class optical/IR satellites (USA-86, -119, -126)
and the two Lacrosse radar imagers are available at various Web sites(*),
as is the software needed to deduce when they were making passes over
Pokhran (**).  I've done this in the table below, assuming a 10-degree
horizon mask for the "KH-11"s and a 30-degree one for the Lacrosses.
I've also assumed that the Indians would need at least a three-hour
gap to do significant things undetected, though they undoubtedly might
perform small-scale operations in less time.
 
 
A couple of conclusions are obvious:
 
- There were several three - to seven hour periods -- generally
two per local day -- in the days leading up to the tests
when the Indians had plenty of time to be out and about while the
five satellites in question were elsewhere, regardless of the weather.
 
- They tested pretty much in the middle of one of the coverage
gaps, and it wasn't until 2.5 hours later that the US had a
chance to get a look at the test site with a Lacrosse. Time
enough to do some hasty clean-up and concealment.
 
- As has been true since at least September 1996, the US
satellite constellation seems curiously out of tune. That is,
these long gaps do exist, and "good" (high elevation) passes
appear to be unnecessarily bunched up.  I've wondered whether the
slightly infamous "disappearing satellites" (***) might actually be
filling these gaps. If so, they apparently weren't looking at
Pokhran week before or last. Or if they were, nobody was paying
attention.
 
 
                             TRAKSAT  Version 2.80
                              Analytical Solution
        Tracking Station: KHETOLAI (POKHRAN) NUCLEAR TEST SITE, INDIA
                       [ Line Of Sight (LOS) Visibility ]
                              Input File:  TLE.TXT
 
 Satellite    UTC     UTC Time Local   Time      Azimuth  Max  Min   Duration
              Date    HR:MN:SC Date    HR:MN:SC           Ele  Range HR:MN:SC
                               (UTC + 5: Pokhran
                               actually seems to be
                               on UTC + 5.5)
 
--------------------------------6 May 1998 UTC-------------------------
 
 
 USA 129      06May98 03:56:12 06May98 08:56:12  NE TO S   28   1797 00:16:12
 USA 86       06May98 04:38:25 06May98 09:38:25  NE TO SE  16   1860 00:12:25
 USA 129      06May98 05:32:24 06May98 10:32:24  N  TO SW  39   1492 00:16:24
 Lacrosse 2   06May98 05:38:57 06May98 10:38:57  S  TO NE  63    745 00:13:57
 USA 86       06May98 06:15:19 06May98 11:15:19  N  TO SW  38   1134 00:13:19
 USA 116      06May98 07:56:34 06May98 12:56:34  NE TO S   19    795 00:07:34
 
> 7-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   06May98 14:58:07 06May98 19:58:07  SW TO NE  39    989 00:13:07
 USA 86       06May98 15:36:48 06May98 20:36:48  E  TO N   10   2632 00:11:48
 Lacrosse 2   06May98 16:00:01 06May98 21:00:01  N  TO SE  64    732 00:13:01
 USA 129      06May98 16:25:13 06May98 21:25:13  S  TO N   80    422 00:10:13
 USA 86       06May98 17:11:33 06May98 22:11:33  S  TO N   87    920 00:16:33
 USA 116      06May98 18:42:54 06May98 23:42:54  SE TO N   22   1984 00:14:54
 USA 116      06May98 20:17:57 07May98 01:17:57  S  TO N   48   1285 00:16:57
 
> 3.3-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   06May98 23:38:34 07May98 04:38:34  NW TO SE  82    679 00:14:34
 
--------------------------------7 May 1998 UTC----------------------
 
 USA 129      07May98 04:21:12 07May98 09:21:12  N  TO S   48   1294 00:17:12
 USA 86       07May98 05:21:59 07May98 10:21:59  N  TO S   50    901 00:13:59
 USA 129      07May98 05:58:13 07May98 10:58:13  N  TO SW  23   2008 00:15:13
 Lacrosse 2   07May98 06:11:05 07May98 11:11:05  SW TO N   37   1018 00:13:05
 USA 86       07May98 07:00:41 07May98 12:00:41  N  TO SW  12   2092 00:11:41
 USA 116      07May98 08:20:51 07May98 13:20:51  N  TO S   67    315 00:08:51
 
> 5.5-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   07May98 13:50:41 07May98 18:50:41  SW TO NE  67    732 00:14:41
 USA 86       07May98 16:18:55 07May98 21:18:55  SE TO N   28   1644 00:15:55
 Lacrosse 2   07May98 16:32:09 07May98 21:32:09  NW TO S   35   1043 00:13:09
 USA 129      07May98 16:50:50 07May98 21:50:50  S  TO NW  26    825 00:09:50
 USA 86       07May98 17:56:22 07May98 22:56:22  S  TO NW  32   1516 00:15:22
 USA 116      07May98 19:06:34 08May98 00:06:34  SE TO N   36   1465 00:16:34
 USA 116      07May98 20:43:02 08May98 01:43:02  S  TO NW  28   1748 00:15:02
 
--------------------------------8 May 1998 UTC-----------------------
 
> 7.75-hour gap
 
 USA 86       08May98 04:29:52 08May98 09:29:52  NE TO SE  11   2053 00:10:52
 USA 129      08May98 04:46:27 08May98 09:46:27  N  TO S   83   1034 00:17:27
 Lacrosse 2   08May98 05:02:31 08May98 10:02:31  S  TO NE  50    839 00:13:31
 USA 86       08May98 06:06:18 08May98 11:06:18  N  TO SW  46    947 00:13:18
 USA 129      08May98 06:24:19 08May98 11:24:19  N  TO SW  13   2574 00:13:19
 USA 116      08May98 08:45:12 08May98 13:45:12  N  TO SW  29    577 00:08:12
 
> 5.7-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   08May98 14:25:36 08May98 19:25:36  SW TO NE  35   1064 00:13:36
 Lacrosse 2   08May98 15:23:30 08May98 20:23:30  N  TO SE  51    823 00:13:30
 USA 129      08May98 15:39:46 08May98 20:39:46  SE TO N   18   1176 00:09:46
 USA 86       08May98 17:02:27 08May98 22:02:27  S  TO N   76    945 00:16:27
 USA 129      08May98 17:16:49 08May98 22:16:49  SW TO NW  11   1432 00:08:49
 USA 86       08May98 18:42:43 08May98 23:42:43  SW TO NW  10   2553 00:11:43
 USA 116      08May98 19:30:31 09May98 00:30:31  SE TO N   62   1079 00:16:31
 USA 116      08May98 21:08:28 09May98 02:08:28  SW TO NW  16   2314 00:14:28
 Lacrosse 3   08May98 23:11:27 09May98 04:11:27  NW TO SE  87    669 00:08:27
 
--------------------------------9 May 1998 UTC----------------------
 
 
> 4.3-hour gap
 
 USA 129      09May98 03:36:27 09May98 08:36:27  NE TO SE  17   2243 00:14:27
 USA 129      09May98 05:11:53 09May98 10:11:53  N  TO SW  58   1155 00:17:53
 USA 86       09May98 05:13:11 09May98 10:13:11  N  TO S   38   1023 00:13:11
 Lacrosse 2   09May98 05:34:24 09May98 10:34:24  SW TO N   45    890 00:13:24
 USA 86       09May98 06:51:33 09May98 11:51:33  N  TO SW  14   1874 00:11:33
 
> 6.4-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   09May98 13:18:06 09May98 18:18:06  SW TO NE  76    692 00:14:06
 Lacrosse 2   09May98 15:55:26 09May98 20:55:26  NW TO S   44    908 00:13:26
 USA 129      09May98 16:04:19 09May98 21:04:19  SE TO N   44    653 00:10:19
 USA 86       09May98 16:10:00 09May98 21:10:00  SE TO N   24   1839 00:14:00
 USA 86       09May98 17:46:57 09May98 22:46:57  S  TO N   39   1355 00:15:57
 USA 116      09May98 18:21:20 09May98 23:21:20  SE TO N   12   2455 00:12:20
 USA 116      09May98 19:54:50 10May98 00:54:50  S  TO N   78    963 00:16:50
 Lacrosse 3   09May98 21:58:58 10May98 02:58:58  NW TO SE  31   1154 00:13:58
 
 
-------------------------------10 May 1998 UTC----------------------
 
> 6-hour gap
 
 USA 129      10May98 04:01:05 10May98 09:01:05  NE TO S   31   1666 00:16:05
 Lacrosse 2   10May98 04:31:10 10May98 09:31:10  SE TO NE  40    958 00:08:10
 USA 129      10May98 05:37:25 10May98 10:37:25  N  TO SW  34   1581 00:16:25
 USA 86       10May98 05:57:24 10May98 10:57:24  N  TO S   58    775 00:13:24
 USA 116      10May98 07:57:29 10May98 12:57:29  NE TO S   17    770 00:07:29
 
> 6-hour gap
 
 Lacrosse 3   10May98 13:53:03 10May98 18:53:03  SW TO NE  32   1155 00:13:03
 Lacrosse 2   10May98 14:47:01 10May98 19:47:01  N  TO SE  42    937 00:13:01
 USA 129      10May98 16:29:22 10May98 21:29:22  S  TO N   67    519 00:11:22
 USA 86       10May98 16:53:22 10May98 21:53:22  S  TO N   63   1031 00:16:22
 USA 86       10May98 18:33:00 10May98 23:33:00  SW TO NW  13   2353 00:13:00
 USA 116      10May98 18:44:06 10May98 23:44:06  SE TO N   21   1928 00:14:06
 USA 116      10May98 20:19:10 11May98 01:19:10  S  TO N   46   1265 00:16:10
 Lacrosse 3   10May98 22:34:26 11May98 03:34:26  NW TO SE  77    691 00:12:26
 
-------------------------------11 May 1998 UTC----------------------
 
> 5.8-hour gap
 
 USA 129      11May98 04:25:52 11May98 09:25:52  N  TO S   54   1205 00:17:52
 Lacrosse 2   11May98 04:57:45 11May98 09:57:45  SW TO N   56    786 00:13:45
 USA 86       11May98 05:04:20 11May98 10:04:20  NE TO S   29   1187 00:12:20
 USA 129      11May98 06:03:01 11May98 11:03:01  N  TO SW  20   2118 00:14:01
 USA 86       11May98 06:42:21 11May98 11:42:21  N  TO SW  17   1661 00:11:21
 USA 116      11May98 08:21:27 11May98 13:21:27  N  TO S   66    285 00:07:27
 
> 4.3-hour gap
 
> Shot time at 10:14 UTC, 1.75 hours after USA 116, 2.5 hours
  before Lacrosse 3
 
 Lacrosse 3   11May98 12:45:29 11May98 17:45:29  SW TO NE  86    672 00:13:29
 Lacrosse 2   11May98 15:18:47 11May98 20:18:47  NW TO S   55    798 00:13:47
 USA 129      11May98 15:19:12 11May98 20:19:12  SE TO N   11   1685 00:09:12
 USA 86       11May98 16:01:13 11May98 21:01:13  SE TO N   20   2033 00:14:13
 USA 129      11May98 16:54:45 11May98 21:54:45  S  TO NW  26    969 00:10:45
 USA 86       11May98 17:37:39 11May98 22:37:39  S  TO N   48   1210 00:16:39
 
 
 
 
        Orbital elements used to create pass table:
 
USA 86
1 22251U          98125.89274956  .00001050           69651-4 0    09
2 22251  97.7482 199.0681 0421996 254.1094 105.8904 14.55545734    01
USA 116
1 23728U 95066  A 98124.94841632  .00038300  00000-0  33306-3 0    04
2 23728  97.9321 237.9230 0552004 189.7088 170.2911 14.75458179    00
USA 129
1 24680U          98119.69333591  .00027700           27252-3 0    12
2 24680  97.8280 180.2409 0544344 354.4309   5.0996 14.74241984   285
Lacrosse 3
1 25017U          98124.91677065  .00000090           16215-4 0    07
2 25017  57.0030 139.7288 0001000  93.5158 266.4842 14.66232428    02
Lacrosse 2
1 21147U 91017  A 98123.91970450  .00000100  00000-0  17068-4 0    01
2 21147  68.0050  19.4885 0003550 148.6847 211.2994 14.68851407    04
 
 
 
(*) This isn't shocking: US spysats have been tracked by people using
    little more than stopwatches and binoculars for decades:
    http://www.fas.org/spp/eprint/at_sp.htm
 
(**) http://www2.satellite.eu.org/sat/vsohp/
 
(***) http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/afp731_at_960521.htm
      http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/afp731_jp_950813.htm