Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Space Control in Desert Storm and Beyond

Space Control in Desert Storm and Beyond

On February 25, 1991, an Iraqi ballistic missile hit an American barracks, killing 28 soldiers. Fortunately, that was an isolated incident. But imagine that Baghdad had been able to drag Desert Storm out an additional four months, hitting other critical targets, straining coalition cohesiveness, stoking political opposition to the Persian Gulf war in allied countries, and turning it into an even more bloody and costly venture. Impossible? Consider the following hypothetical course of events.

First, the Iraqi military modifies its primitive Scud missiles and deploys a handful of ballistic missiles capable of exploiting the commercially available U.S. fleet of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to improve targeting accuracy. Then, using information derived from commercial sources or an imagery satellite operated by an ally, Iraq scores direct hits on the coalition’s three major fuel dumps in the theater. The space-derived information also tips off Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to the build-up of forces in northwestern Saudi Arabia in support of the coalition’s “left-hook” counteroffensive strategy. So he launches missiles tipped with chemical warheads to disrupt and confuse these no longer secret preparations. To be sure, the coalition will still ultimately triumph over Iraq, but by maximizing his limited access to space systems Saddam confounds allied leadership and makes its victory more grueling, and several times more costly.

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