Current naval operations rely heavily on space resources. A large majority of space resources are devoted to the ingestion of intelligence and intelligence related data. Assets organic to afloat units limited intelligence collection before the advent of satellite Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). These afloat units were augmented by intelligence centers ashore and through intelligence sharing efforts from allies. With the advent of technologies surrounding space exploration and exploitation, the US Navy was beneficially positioned at the forefront of adjusting to new policy, threats and operational intelligence need.

The Navy has a long history of utilizing adversaries’ data to gain an edge in executing missions at sea. Throughout this history, much of the data collected was limited by the technology available. After World War II, advances in technology and the presentation of new adversaries, supercharged the organic ISR capability of units afloat. However, the technologies were limited to the organic capability of individual military platforms. Global tensions pushed for exploitation of the space domain which ignited the space race. Due to advances in the ability to reach this new domain, the issue of their application at the Department of Defense pushed the services, particularly the Navy, into technological revolutions and technological transitions to satisfy the demand.

Application of data collected by sensors in space at the operational level forced significant change within the US Navy and its fleet. Although the general execution of operations seems to have only changed slightly, in reality many fundamental changes occurred at the unit level with respect to the naval intelligence community at large. Exploration of the changes within this community of the Navy will allow for the thorough understanding of the impacts of satellite ISR by drawing a correlation between the parts and their influence on the whole.

Understanding the timeline of the genesis of satellite ISR and its implementation in the fleet is essential to comprehending the initial impacts of space- based ISR on naval operations. By setting up the timelines, juxtaposed to US policy and global pressures, one will attempt to classify the specific differences between naval operations before and after the availability of satellite ISR at the fleet level.

To comprehend the differences, however, one must understand the scope of the genesis of space-based ISR and the facets of its materialization within the US intelligence community. The US Navy’s intelligence community has a distinct symbiotic relationship with the national intelligence community and the policies that affect it. Exploring this relationship and the general history of ISR around the time of satellite ISR availability, establishes the foundation for researching the proposed delta between naval operations before and after the materialization of this new technology. Furthermore, the political climate surrounding this period will provide amplification and explain the supposed culture shift from the terrestrial and tangible to the atmospheric horizon.

The focus of this research is to determine if afloat availability of satellite ISR, a technology that is relatively new, fundamentally changed naval operations. The research will determine the standard ISR/operations relationship before afloat satellite ISR availability, what capabilities were available once promulgated to afloat units, and resulting naval doctrinal shifts. Once the data is observed or obtained, a comparative analysis will occur to determine deltas in naval operations before and after the afloat ISR shift.

This work was done by LCDR Paul A. Colon for the Army Command and General Staff College. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) below. ARL-0239


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Impact of Satellite Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance on Modern Naval Operations

(reference ARL-0239) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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