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Satellite Access in Time of War 213

miladus writes "Interesting report in the Washington Post this morning about how the Pentagon is buying access to commercial satellites to meet its bandwidth needs. Most of the commercial access will be used for backup to the military satellites and for non-military tasks. And the Pentagon has to compete on the market with all the news organizations trying to cover the conflict in Iraq."
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Satellite Access in Time of War

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  • Used all the time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:04AM (#5555339)
    I know from working at different military installations that commercial services are used quite often for military purposes. All of the projects I've worked on utilizing satellite comms have always been over commercial satellites with Type-1 encryption.
  • Good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by coolmacdude ( 640605 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:04AM (#5555346) Homepage Journal
    I say let them have it. Better the Pentagon use it for something constructive than biased talking heads for their fluffed up stories.
    • Re:Good idea (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Funny that you use "Pentagon" and "Constructive" in the same sentence :-P
    • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gomiam ( 587421 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:16AM (#5555473)
      Somehow the constructive side of the Pentagon's use of these satellites eludes me :-)
      • Re:Good idea (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by coolmacdude ( 640605 )
        The more resources they have, the faster we can win the war.
      • Re:Good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @11:08AM (#5556009)
        > Somehow the constructive side of the Pentagon's use of these satellites eludes me :-)

        *lol*, yes, it was an amusing choice of words :)

        But seriously, having a large technological edge over your opponent allows you to reduce civilian casualties in war.

        Suppose satellite (GPS) guided bombs and satellite (spy) pictures relayed by satellite (communications) allowed us to whack Saddam last night and to prove we'd done so to the world - including Iraqi soldiers. The war could be over by this time tomorrow.

        (In fact, based on what I saw on the news and the blogs overnight, even if half of it eventually turns out to be disinfo/psyops, I'm still just about ready to wager that this war will be over by this time next week.)

        • I'm still just about ready to wager that this war will be over by this time next week.)

          Famous Last Words?

          You'd just as well say our troops will be home by Christmas!
    • by t0ny ( 590331 )
      Dammit, the Pentagon slashdotted my CNN!
  • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhk@ h o t m a il.com> on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:05AM (#5555347) Homepage Journal
    I've always wondered about the amount of actual bandwidth available to news organizations like CNN, the BBC and the rest. It's one of those things that came to mind whenever I'd see something like the grainy videophone footage we got used to in Gulf War 1.0, that looked like it was shot with a QuickCam using the Sony Pantycam(tm) image enhancement.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:11AM (#5555403)
      Reuters has huge amounts of bandwith - they own Radianz (www.radianz.com) which is an enormous redundant network - however it is used mainly for financial data. But it is a huge network.
    • by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:47AM (#5555779) Homepage
      The news organizations use InMarSat [inmarsat.com] video terminals -- it's a 64k ISDN connection, which is why it is so grainy.

      We do a lot of this (for medical projects) and sometimes mux two channels for a 128k connection, but it is not something you'd want to troubleshoot in the field with a non-technical person. It also gets a lot bigger in size, while the little video systems the news guys have all fit in a small briefcase and have a single panel dish built in.
      • The news organizations use InMarSat [inmarsat.com] video terminals -- it's a 64k ISDN connection, which is why it is so grainy.

        Yes, and mostly yes. The news organizations are also using regular Sat broadcast equipment in more establish/less dangerous places (in Kuwait for example). That, however, requires a big truck.

        The InMarSat is a relatively new -- much more portable -- method.
    • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:48AM (#5555784) Homepage
      it's not the bandwidth on the satellite that is an issue here. Rather, it is the uplink bandwidth available to the person on the ground. reasonable TV quality video requires 256 to 384 K. bps. In order to achieve that, you need a large antenna or some kind of a small dish. logistical constraints may prevent you from carrying that much hardware into the field. videophones are much smaller and lower power, therefore they have a much harder time getting respectable data rates up to the satellite.
    • Actually the question of bandwidth comes up quite a bit in modern warfare. I've heard stories about how available bandwidth during the Afghanistan conflict limited the use of UAV's....they require a HUGE amount of bandwidth to do all the telepresence capabilities, and the networks are already stressed with existing communications as well as "civilian" applications on the network like P2P. They would have liked to flown a couple more, but they couldn't without a risk of bringing the entire network to a halt.
    • whenever I'd see something like the grainy videophone footage we got used to in Gulf War 1.0, that looked like it was shot with a QuickCam using the Sony Pantycam(tm) image enhancement.

      As someone else pointed out [slashdot.org], there's enough bandwith for better pictures. Oh dear, that's an AC and might be a troll. Anyone who remembers "satilite broadcasts" on CNN from the last Gulf war might think pictures could be clear. Surely capacity has not decreased since?

      Grainy pictures, however, are a nice Product Placement

    • by Sinus0idal ( 546109 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @02:12PM (#5557981)
      Heh.. I know I'm on Slashdot when its called 'Gulf War 1.0' :-)

      Does that come after the beta version?
  • by mschoolbus ( 627182 ) <travisriley@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:05AM (#5555351)
    So fast and easy to use, no wonder its number 1!!! Even make use of parental filters!

    (ducks)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Someone tell these guys there's a War going on.

    At a time like this, they shouldn't be downloading more pr0n!

    --
    GWB: "My troops went Iraq, and all they brought home for me was a lousy body bag"
  • It seems more likely to me that they'd be given carte blanche out of either patriotism, or the desire to capitalise on same ("Hey look, we gave more than anyone else to the War Effort").
  • Just how safe is this? Their data can be compromised and sold to other countries by greedy and unethical companies. Their protocols and encryption methods can be cracked and discovered. Think of the implications.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Is this really an issue at all?

      weakly encrypted stream having payload of higly encrypted stream.

      Of course they can allways encrypt encrypted stream with so strong encryption that meets current military standards.

    • The military encrypts all their data though, so it doesn't matter, it's not like they send plaintext over the satelite. It's like using a VPN connection, even though anyone can see the data going through the internet, only the ends points can actually view the data.
    • Just how safe is this?

      My question is: how safe is this for the companies? Civilian resources that are used during a time of war become targets. We hit a civilian bomb shelter during the last war that was being used a command and control center.

      • by phrantic ( 630202 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:42AM (#5555726)
        Two things,

        1) I would guess (having not read the article) that any information that is encrypted tighter than a whale's bum under water, is either comms stuff, or information that is non-critical, things like before and after shots of Saddam's royal palaces, the before shot might be useful but the smoking crater that is the after shot will be very little use, and almost indistinguishable from all the other smoking holes in the ground

        2) As to the civilian satellites being targets, despite what the spin doctoring and hawks would have you believe Saddam would have trouble getting ordinance to hit a barn door at 50 metres, never mind picking satellites off.

        • As to the civilian satellites being targets, ... Saddam would have trouble ... picking satellites off

          I wasn't thinking about the actual satellites, so much as the offices, personnel, relay stations, etc. It weakens the presumption that civilians are off limits.

      • how safe is this for the companies?
        Well considering that their equipment is 22,400 miles a way, and it's all uphill to it; I'd say it's pretty safe. It's not like Iraq could do anything to a satalite, and the bandwidth is pretty much a commodity, so Knocking out the other guys bandwidth is the same as knocking out your own. As long as the providers are playing fair their satelites would be off limits. Now Military satelites a lot of the time are place in polar orbits usualy circular about 600 mi up, still
    • Their data can be compromised and sold to other countries by greedy and unethical companies.
      (or companies which follow some other ethics.)

      Time when data is valuable is probably quite short. And decrypting and analyzing data may take quite long.

  • Data Priorities (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:09AM (#5555395) Homepage Journal
    While information to the citizens is important, the safety of the people that are doing the fighting comes first. They need data to do their job and come home in one piece. THAT is the first priority.

    What screwy priorities, there should be *no* issue... ' we need the bandwidth, too bad' ' you |biased| news services can have what is left'.
    • While information to the citizens is important, the safety of the people that are doing the fighting comes first. They need data to do their job and come home in one piece. THAT is the first priority.

      They might also need shelter from the cold, but quartering in your house any old way is a violation of the third amendment to the Constitution [archives.gov]:

      "Amendment III

      No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed b

      • No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

        In other words: it's fine in wartime, as long as Congress passes an Act saying so. In peacetime, of course, they have to make their own arrangements.

        • In other words: it's fine in wartime, as long as Congress passes an Act saying so.

          It places a burden on Congress to detail exaclty how and under what circumstances soldiers should be quartered. "Do it now, and as you like" would violate that and would require an amendment, not just an ordinary law.

          You have to understand the respect for private property and law this underscores. Abitrary searches, confiscation and encumberance, even in time of war, are UnAmerican.

  • No competition! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:10AM (#5555396) Homepage Journal
    And the Pentagon has to compete on the market with all the news organizations trying to cover the conflict in Iraq.

    With the budget that the Pentagon has, I'm sure that's no competition...

  • by Chicane-UK ( 455253 ) <chicane-uk.ntlworld@com> on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:10AM (#5555400) Homepage
    The Pentagon competing with the likes of CNN and the BBC over sattelite time?

    "We now cross live to our correspondant, Richard Jones, in the north of Iraq..."

    "Affirmative.. unit 4, prepare to advance on the enemy position to your south."

    "Ermmmm...."

    I know it wouldn't happen, but hey.. at least try and have a little humour at such a bad time :|
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually one of their Predator drones had it unencrypted video feed broadcast in realtime from a Balkan peace keeping mission - I don't recall if it was the satellite retransmission that was leaky or the drone itself but I believe it was the satellite.
    • Just as long as some flaky broadcaster doesn't inadvertently launch an airstrike, that is!
  • Anyone captured any cool pictures from satellites yet, perhaps using a setup like the one described here [slashdot.org] I'm considering going to Washington DC to photograph protests, etc. but I'm not sure how safe it would be, since Washington is probably the main target for retaliation.
  • I wouldn't think CNN's crappy videophone would take up much bandwidth. C'mon CNN, where's the technology?
  • Find public companies that own satellites inolved in this and invest heavily for one to three weeks.

    Deep pockets are going to fight over limited resources - which means a lot of money is going to be exchanged in the short term.
    Assuming that they satellite companies don't offer some sort of bargain deal or preference to the military/gov't, then they are looking to make a metric crapload on this.
  • by rodney dill ( 631059 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:16AM (#5555459) Journal
    With the military using satelite bandwidth, will this have any effect on SPAM? It would be a shame if the whole SPAMMER infrastructure came to a halt during the war. Most likely I just miss out on re-runs of Gilligan's Island. And as far as politics are concerned, I stopped being ashamed to be an American the day Hill Billy Boy left office.
  • by coopaq ( 601975 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:18AM (#5555482)
    Well today's CNN [cnn.com] war homepage with
    the goddamn size 85 arial fonts should
    help the bandwidth problem. Half the
    page is only three words.

    That's got to help.

    Of course I almost had a
    seizure when I first loaded it.

    -J

    • It really is Hollywood news coverage isnt it, CNNs take on the war is so awful and tacky I think they should hire editors from TheOnion and at least make it funny if their creating pages like this.
  • Videophone (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rwiedower ( 572254 )
    My question is this: why are all the reporters who are reporting "via videophone" burdened with such bad reception? A decent ISDN connection should be able to have fairly smooth video and audio, yet the CNN reporter on the USS Lincoln and the CNN reporter in Northern Iraq both had super-grainy video and sketchy audio. Don't these reporters have access to a satellite uplink? And if not, why can't they get enough bandwidth over a decent ISDN connection?
    • Yeah lots of isdn lines running in north Iraq and to ships
    • Re:Videophone (Score:5, Informative)

      by phil reed ( 626 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:53AM (#5555852) Homepage
      My question is this: why are all the reporters who are reporting "via videophone" burdened with such bad reception?

      you are watching videophones runing at 56 K.


      Don't these reporters have access to a satellite uplink?

      that was a satellite uplink, via a satellite phone.


      And if not, why can't they get enough bandwidth over a decent ISDN connection?

      antenna size and power budget.

    • I remember several months ago there was an mention here on /. about a special small satellite dish transceiver unit (about the size of most carry-on luggage) that could transmit data at well over one megabits per second. With that type of bandwidth near-broadcast quality video is possible; how come nobody is using it right now in the Middle East?
  • Webcam? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:18AM (#5555490)
    Anyone knows about a working webcam in iraq?
  • GPS (Score:5, Funny)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:18AM (#5555492) Homepage Journal
    I heard that civilian use of GPS may become less acurate, during war. This morning I fired mine up and it says: "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike."
    • On the dusty floor is a gold pocket watch. [East] [West] [North] [South]
    • Maybe Saddam or Osama is hiding somewhere in that Colossal Cave...
    • Yes, they are going to (or probably have) knocked civilian use GPS down from being accurate to 3m to being accurate to over 100m. Probably so that Iraq can't as easily lay mines, plot them with GPS and then have their soldiers navigate through using GPS. Other reasons come to mind as well

      What I am interested in is how much of an impact will this have on farmers, mining expeditions, and everyone's onSTAR (how may i help you batman?)

      Although, it is a smart thing to do during a war, when you do own the s
    • "Freedom Fries" isn't patriotism, it's jingoism

      Cool, I learned a new word. Till now I called it childish and stupid.

      For anybody else that needs to look it up:

      jingoism (jngg-zm) n.
      Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism.
  • If you're the biggest customer, you would have the added benefit of being able to task sats not only to cover what you want, but also to *not* cover areas you'd just as soon commercial services not have access to.
  • if countries like iraq or its allies had the capability to destroy or disrupt satellite com?
  • by L. VeGas ( 580015 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:23AM (#5555542) Homepage Journal
    GWB just wants to make sure his access to nickjr.com remains unimpeded.
  • War = $$ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by canning ( 228134 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:24AM (#5555545) Homepage
    The Pentagon "is hoovering up all the available capacity," said Richard DalBello, president of the Satellite Industry Association, a trade group.

    I can't tell if he's amazed or excited. Chances are DalBello is calculating his stock options as we speak. War will always make some people millionaires.

    • Going up!

      First floor, $200 hammers, $1,000 toilet seats and other hardware.

      Second floor, B1B engines, stealthy surface ships, 747 based chemical lasers and other exotic equipment made to order in special lots.

      ...

      Orbit: Spy platforms, navigation equipment, $2,000 email and other bandwith.

      Luna: Tritium, ...

  • Great... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OS24Ever ( 245667 ) <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:25AM (#5555565) Homepage Journal
    ...So, My hard earned money that gets sucked away to taxes is being spent on access to corporately owned satellites that are in a bidding war for either A) Keeping our troops safe or B) Letting Geraldo Rivera run around in the desert and state idiotic comments and a bunch of talking heads bouncing signals saying the same stupid things over and over.

    Great.
    • It's better than your tax dollars paying the millitary to put up their own sattelites to handle usually unneeded bandwidth. Do you have any idea how efficient these private companies are compared to Uncle Sam? Even in a bidding war I'll bet we're paying under 10% what a home-grown green-painted sattelite would cost.
  • They already control [theregister.co.uk] the uplinks, why not take the logical next step and use the bandwidth when the journalists aren't?

    It's not like the media is going to report anything negative about them... they want to keep their "approved" status.

    Sukotto
  • by watzinaneihm ( 627119 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:37AM (#5555677) Journal
    It looks like the Govt. is not only buying up bandwidth, but also commercial satellite photography services.
    I don't htink USA has any shortage of imaging tech., most probably trying to stop Saddam from buying the images
    How are they going to stop bin Laden tho. , how long can they monopolize commercial satellites?

    Scary.
    • Although you're correct in that the US has incredible satellite imagery capabilities, the problem is that the satellites are orbiting the earth, and thus they can't have a satellite everywhere they need it, at all the time. I would speculate that they're using the commercial imagery satellites to make up for gaps in their coverage.
    • That could lead to a serious shortage who knows what they'll do next like buy up all of the Britteny Spears MP3 off gnutella!

      Sorry if you wasn't joking, just in case you wasn't they're digital first one costest plenty, the next just a blank cd or bandwidth.
    • I don't htink USA has any shortage of imaging tech., most probably trying to stop Saddam from buying the images
      How are they going to stop bin Laden tho. , how long can they monopolize commercial satellites?


      At least for satellite imaging companies in the United States, one of the conditions in order to get a imaging satellite license is to abide by US government regulations that include a list of 'denied parties' that cannot be sold to, and the ability to issue 'shutter control' directives for sensitive p
  • Price surprise. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bish.dk ( 547663 )
    An Inmarsat spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the company puts all of its customers on equal footing.

    Media companies such as Fox pay about $1.50 per minute for voice communication via satellite and about $6 per minute to transmit video.


    I must admit I'm really surprised by these numbers. $1.50 for voice is not far from what we paid for ordinary cell phones 5 years ago. Will be interesting to see if these kind of services can be extended to the use of ordinary people one day.
  • The reason you see VideoPhone's in certain areas is becuase they are in hostile zones. In hostile zones, all press has been warned that planes scanning above for radar sites will see an upling as a ping on them the same as a radar site... That could cause many problems. As far as reporters onboard ships, the ships are not going to give them alot of bandwidth via their sat. hookups. So they have to use what they get. Hope that helps.
  • Silly. The military has plenty of bandwidth, they buy up commercial bandwidth during conflicts to keep bad guys from using it. They probably buy up bandwidth and then sell it back to CNN and other friendly services, maybe at a loss, but it's just another mechanism for controlling information in the battlefield.
  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @10:49AM (#5555799)
    And the Pentagon has to compete on the market with all the news organizations trying to cover the conflict in Iraq

    "Hello, CBS? We'd like some of that bandwidth you've reserved. No? Well, OK. Say, out of pure curiosity, what are Dan Rather's coordinates? ... We can? Well, thanks!"
  • I seem to remember them doing something very similar in Afghanistan (sorry, don't have time to dredge up a link). But in that case, they didn't need the capacity (not that I heard, anyway): they bought the pictures from the commercial imaging satellites to stop anyone else getting their hands on them. ISTR news agencies being less than happy with it at the time...
  • It is time for our great country of America to end our dependence on publicly held bandwidth!

    We will no longer allow our children to be held hostage by the threat of foriegn satellites. We will be resolute and just in our cause, as we cannot risk anymore lives.

    Without going to war with any country that threatens to charge us for data access, we would allow the proliferation of ways to take our money and force us to act like a responsible part of the world. We will not allow this to happen.
  • One question that I have is -

    If we're jamming every radio communication in Iraq and taking out their telephones, how is it that CNN et al can have live broadcats out of Baghdad? I assume that we can selectively jam communications, or is it something else?

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @11:16AM (#5556079)
    A state of war exists when Congress passes a delaration of war.

    • You are right. Congress authorized the use of force. It only looks, smells and feels like a war but really it's an application of force such as those Newton talked about.

  • Well here's a question: Do commercial sattelites have the same encryption capabilities as military sattelites? I mean... I know commercial signals are scrambled so I can't steal HBO but are we compromising military communications by using a less secure sattelite system?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Unlike geostationary communication satellites, which hover 22,500 miles in space as they spin in sync with the earth, low-orbit satellites are permitted under international law to spin around the globe at over 17,000 mph."

    "Permitting" the satellites to fly at 17,000mph was a wise agreement, considering the alternative was to "allow" them to fall to earth at 9.8m/s/s.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2003 @11:37AM (#5556256)
    Bandwidth shmandwidth. This is propaganda control!

    BBC correspondent Kate Adie [bbc.co.uk] who is now covering the US invasion reports in an interview on Irish radio about pentegon censorship:

    "I've seen a complete erosion of any kind of acknowledgment that reporters should be able to report as they witness. The Americans... and I've been talking to the Pentagon ...take the attitude which is entirely hostile to the free spread of information."

    "I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks--that is the television signals out of... Bhagdad, for example--were detected by any planes ...electronic media... mediums, of the military above Bhagdad... they'd be fired down on. Even if they were journalists ..."


    Some will argue this is a necessary step in protecting the invaders, but this threat came well before the 'war' started. I for one doubt physical safety is anywhere close the true goal here. Political and public opinion safety is more like it.

    And perhaps foreshadowing our buying up extra bandwidth for 'backup' Adie later in the interview says:

    "...the Americans are: a) Asking journalists who go with them, whether they are... have feelings against the war. And therefore if you have views that are skeptical, then you are not to be acceptable.

    Secondly, they are intending to take control of the Americans technical equipment ...those uplinks and satellite phones I was talking about. And control access to the airwaves."


    Guess she had it right.

    A description of the interview with links to audio and other sources can be found here [eircom.net]
    • The problem is that journalists reporting live on events as they occur is that it's a great way to tell the enemy exactly where we are and what we are planning. This really does pose a safety risk to the guys on the ground. If the reporting isn't controlled to some extent, this is essentially giving the enemy free information that they would otherwise use spies to collect.

      I'm perfectly happy with having reporters present, but restricting them from reporting operational details until after the operations ar
  • There is still some non-military data coming from the satellites: http://www.methaz.com/blogpics/iraq.html [methaz.com]

  • by march ( 215947 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @11:48AM (#5556351) Homepage
    Hey! Where's _All My Children_? There's some guy in a green outfit and hat, talking funny while eating dinner instead! Damn networks! You just *can't* get good TV anymore! :-)
  • All they have to do is follow through on this [theinquirer.net]. That should increase available bandwidth.

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