A - Overview
The US military started Desert Shield with very poor maps of the region. One observer with prior experience flying Search and Rescue (SAR) in the region noted that "Another great obstacle to our SAR group's operations was maps. The Army Map Service issues we had were '50s and '60s publications, with incomplete relief and classification data... it was easy to see why our American crews termed Saudi Arabia 'Disneyland East'... the map situation hasn't improved much. It is only institutional memory and hand-drawn charts that are filling the gap in knowledge" for civilian pilots prior to the war.(1)
B - Space Segment
The Defense Mapping Agency worked to produce new maps of the region using SPOT and LANDSAT imagery. One of the reasons that this imagery proved particularly important is its applicability to terrain classification. Normally maps will show valleys, mountains and rivers, but do not classify the terrain in terms of hard sand, soft sand, or marshy areas that are currently dry.
The Defense Mapping Agency apparently has tried to get approval for a Map-Sat which would be dedicated military mapping satellite, but this has not been approved. Instead, the newer KH-12 satellites have been given an improved mapping capability.
C - Control Segment
These civilian satellites were not under operational military control, but were rather directed by their commercial operators.
D - User Segment
The Defense Mapping Agency supplied more than 4,500 different maps of the theater, all of which were updated following the 2 August invasion.(2) A total of 35 million maps were distributed to forces in the Gulf by the end of 1990, an effort that was estimated to be ten times the amount of work done during the entire Korean War. These had been produced by cartographers at centers in St. Louis (which makes aeronautical maps) and Brookmont, in suburban Maryland (which makes sea and land maps), relying on satellite imagery.(3) In some cases, the staff at these facilities had been placed on a three-shifts-per-day, seven-days-per-week schedule.(4)
The 30th Engineering Battalion (Topographic) at Ft. Bragg, NC used Army Space Command personal computer systems to convert Landsat and other commercial remote sensing data into current monochrome and color maps of the theater.(5) The system used 50 Landsat images, along with a few SPOT photos, most of which were obtained after the 2 August Invasion. Over 5,000 black-and-white images were shipped from Ft. Bragg to forces in the theater.(6)
E - Operational Applications
"When US troops arrived in Saudi Arabia, they discovered their maps were so outdated and new Saudi construction had been completed so rapidly that even major air bases and highways were not marked. Military commanders said they have ordered new satellite photographs of the kingdom... 'I wouldn't say that we are lost at any given time' said one field commander. 'It's more that we don't know exactly where we are... the maps stink.'"(7) The multi-spectral imagery could assist identification of beach areas most suitable for Marine amphibious landings, or areas of the desert most conducive to armored operations.(8)
"Defense Mapping Agency personnel also have been doing extensive work with reconnaissance satellite imagery to calculate the precise coordinates of potential Iraqi targets. This is being done to update the guidance systems of Tomahawk cruise missiles on US Navy ships and for planning potential air strikes by US Air Force and Navy crews."(9)
Mapping satellite systems were also used to assist in the location and destruction of Iraqi mobile missile launchers, by analyzing terrain to determine likely firing sites. "Scuds don't just drive out into the countryside and touch off a few rounds. Its a very systematic process in which the Iraqis are constrained by a number of well-known conditions and parameters... there are pre-marked firing sites for those kind of missiles... there is a map (of potential sites), and one does not have to capture a copy of the map to build the map. There is a ground truth map, and it is quite possible to reconstruct that map... (but) without systematically emulating the Iraqi siting techniques and decision-making processes... the task remains difficult because the launchers are inherently elusive."(10)
Digital maps for Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM-C) with conventional warheads were prepared using satellite imagery by the Defense Mapping Agency. This gained added significance with the deployment to the Red Sea of the CG-56 San Jacinto and CG-58 Philippine Sea Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The normal armament of a cruiser of this class would include 12 TLAM-Cs among its 122 Vertical Launch System missile canisters, with most of the remaining canisters carrying Standard anti-aircraft missiles. But these two ships were stripped of anti-aircraft missiles, and loaded exclusively with dozens of TLAM-Cs.(11)
In the days immediately after the cease-fire, LANDSAT images were released detailing the number of Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, as well as the extent of smoke cover.(12)
F - Operational Limitations
The sole operational deficiency of the military mapping operation was with digital scene mapping for Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles. It was suggested that several months were required to produce the computer navigation maps required to operate these missiles in the theater, since no route maps had be prepared in advance.
G - Alternative Systems
Imaging intelligence satellites would be used for mapping for special operations forces, which need pictures of individual buildings or individual parts of town -- but such product is more of a target folder than a map. With the hostage rescue mission in Tehran in 1980, contingency plans for extracting people from the American Embassy in Kuwait City used intelligence satellite photos in the target folder that showed the vicinity around the embassy.
H - Iraqi Capabilities
As previously discussed in the section on imaging intelligence satellites, Iraq also had access to commercial remote sensing product, which may have been used in the planning for the invasion of Kuwait. But the relative immobility of Iraqi forces following the invasion diminished the importance of this material.
I - Net Assessment
The success of Coalition ground operations was highly dependent on maps, and this seems to have been a generally successful effort. Problems with mapping product availability in Third World contingency scenarios for Tomahawk cruise missiles will alleviated with the introduction of Navstar-based guidance systems in the Block III version of the missile.
1. Gabella, W.F., "Formidable Natural Hazards Await US Coalition Forces," Armed Forces Journal International, March 1991, page 36-38.
2. Kiernan, Vincent, "Satellite Data Boosts Map Quality for US Troops," Space News, 15 October 1990, page 3, 28.
3. "Agency Shows Way for Gulf Forces," The Washington Post, 2 January 1991, page A11.
4. "DMA Effort," Aerospace Daily, 17 December 1990, page 443.
5. "Army Space Command Demo Efforts Go Operational in Desert Shield," Aerospace Daily, 20 November 1990, page 305-306.
6. Kiernan, Vincent, "Satellite Data Boosts Map Quality for US Troops," Space News, 15 October 1990, page 3, 28.
7. Moore, Molly, "Wanted: A New Map of Saudi Arabia," The Washington Post, 30 August 1990, page 1.
8. Kiernan, Vincent, "Satellite Data Boosts Map Quality for US Troops," Space News, 15 October 1990, page 3, 28.
9. Covault, Craig, "Space Recon of Iraq Taxes CIA Operations," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 3 September 1990, page 30-31.
10. "Scud Launch Procedures May Hold Key to Defeat of Mobile Missiles," Aerospace Daily, 28 January 1991, page 149-150.
11. "San Jacinto Becomes First Cruise Missile-Only Cruiser," Navy News & Undersea Technology, 22 October 1990, page 1.
12. CENTCOM News Briefing, 3 March 1991.