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Uses and limitations of USA’s spy satellites watching Russia’s nukes

Cape Canaveral will launch what the director of the National Reconnaissance Office — the intelligence agency that manages the spy satellites — calls the “largest satellite in the world” into geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth,

How the U.S. Snoops on Russian Nukes From Space Wired.com By Spencer Ackerman   November 18, 2010 “…..Verification is the heart of arms control. Before the U.S. and Russia started signing arms control deals in the 1970s, each launched spy planes and satellites up into the sky to get a sense of how many missiles the other guy had. And even with the advent of missile-counters, the U.S. continues to throw satellites into space to snoop below.

Tomorrow, Cape Canaveral will launch what the director of the National Reconnaissance Office — the intelligence agency that manages the spy satellites — calls the “largest satellite in the world” into geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth, where it’ll use “sensitive radio receivers and an antenna generally believed to span up to 100 meters (328 feet) to gather electronic intelligence for the National Security Agency,” as sat-watcher Ted Molczan told Space.com…..

The National Reconnaissance Office’s satellites are classified. But of the 438 U.S. military, government and commercial satellites hovering overhead, “you could characterize about 90 of them as collecting some form of intelligence, whether it is imagery, signals, or detecting nuclear detonations,” says Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command. (Globalsecurity.org has a good rundown of some of their capabilities.)

When it comes to arms-control, the satellites are good for “a rough sense of scale,” says Danger Room alum and arms control wonk at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies Jeffrey Lewis. That is, “you can count brigades and you can see bunkers,” and can watch heavy equipment moving in and out of nuclear-production sites.

 

But anything more specific requires on-the-ground inspectors. “If a treaty calls for them having 500 delivery vehicles, you’d probably know the number was 1000 and not 10,000,” Lewis continues, “but you would not be able to tell 500 from 1000.” You also wouldn’t know how many nuclear warheads are placed a single missile. And you definitely can’t use them to see inside a nuclear bunker or silo…..

How the U.S. Snoops on Russian Nukes From Space | Danger Room | Wired.com

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November 19, 2010 - Posted by | secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | , , ,

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