It’s time for a tactical LiDAR satellite

Deployment of a LiDAR satellites will allow the military to effectively use its new generation of weapons systems.

Confronting potential threats emerging from the rise of great-power competition dictates new approaches to collecting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The U.S. is on the right path by making large new investments in conventional long-range precision weapons. If it does become necessary to use these advanced weapons, however, will they be effective? That is the critical question.

Throughout the Cold War, America’s national security focused on the former Soviet Union as the strategic threat. The U.S. intelligence community (IC) and the Air Force developed and fielded collection systems to monitor vast geographic areas. By maintaining large repositories of potential military targets, policymakers and military leaders could count on getting early indications and warnings of threats emanating from the USSR.

At that time, much of the ISR collection came from high-altitude aircraft, providing us invaluable “eyes and ears” over the Soviet Union. To counter this advantage, the USSR developed air defenses capable of shooting down America’s ISR aircraft, including the most famous incident – the 1960 downing of Francis Gary Powers and his U2.  This event drove the U.S. to field new intelligence satellite systems beyond the reach of enemy missiles. 

Not until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq did American airborne systems once again become a predominant ISR source. U.S. manned and unmanned aircraft could fly with virtual impunity. 

An entire generation of military leaders came to rely on persistent collection from the new generation of sensors on aircraft.  Amazing new electro-optical, infrared, radar and LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging -- sensors delivered crucial and timely information to the warfighter and the IC.  LiDAR sensors use lasers that can effectively operate from far distances to map terrain and structures, offering both superb resolution and absolute geolocational accuracy – critical elements to direct precision guided munitions to their intended target.  LiDAR also permitted field-deployed analysts and operators alike to see through dense forests and build 3D scenes of a target.

While no one can dispute the effectiveness of airborne collection, advanced anti-aircraft weaponry put these platforms at risk.  With the U.S. national security strategy refocused on China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, America’s ISR would be vulnerable to improved air defenses, should surveillance aircraft need to enter an adversary’s airspace. These advanced air defense systems are known within defense circles and the IC as “anti-access/anti-denial” systems. This means U.S. aircraft (and even ships) require a “stand off” distance to operate without coming into harm’s way. To mitigate for A2/AD, collection capabilities must be incorporated into satellites. Simultaneously, the U.S. is building a new generation of weapons systems that can provide conventional (non-nuclear) strikes on targets at great distances with great precision. For instance, the Army is developing a new generation of long-range precision fires, including a new cannon, missile and hypersonic missile. In each case, the weapons can travel much further than any U.S. airborne ISR system can see, requiring satellites to effectively use these new weapons. 

Supporting the new weapons such as strategic hypersonic missiles depends on delivering high-quality ISR in tactically relevant timelines. The good news is that a NASA science mission called ICESAT2 proved the U.S. can collect space-based LiDAR. The bad news is that the NASA LiDAR doesn’t deliver the high-resolution, 3D, foliage-penetration imagery or even tactical timelines the military needs. Intelligence and military planners along with field operators need a space-based LiDAR capable of rapidly surveying large areas at very high resolution in a single pass. For example, they must scan areas that range from 100,000 to 400,000 square meters with resolutions of 1 meter, .5 meter and .2 meter. 

But the news is not all bad for America’s military planners. There is a promising new concept, based on proven technology, for a multi-aperture, space-based LiDAR satellite system with multiple telescope receiver modules observing a single target. This approach, which would solve the intelligence and defense problem relies on a laser pulse from a single-photon LiDAR system that reflects from the target. The signal photons propagate not only back to the transmitter but also in other directions. These results could provide unmatched visibility of a denied area of interest alongside the data necessary for more effective and accurate use of advanced weapon systems.

What is needed? First is a feasibility study by the Army partnering with the appropriate IC element focused on building space capabilities. We need confirmation that any system in development will work with detailed modeling and simulations. If those tests prove a system effective, it’s urgent we move to deployment of a demonstration satellite.

Our national decision-makers must do all they can to prevent war. However, if war is necessary, the U.S. must win and do so decisively. The nation’s precision guidance weapons require investments in new ISR satellites. LiDAR is a combat-proven sensor technology that must now be deployed in space. Such a space-based capability will assure decision-makers in and out of uniform that reliable and precise information is available when and where needed.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.