The Role of Space in the Gulf Conflicts


American military manpower involved in the 2003 Iraq war was less than a quarter that used a decade earlier in the Gulf war – 132,000 compared to 542,000. No new major weapons systems had been introduced in the intervening period, and America's increased military effectiveness was down to three things: (1) better communications, (2) better positioning and (3) better integration of various systems.

Where ten bombs were needed to destroy a target in 1991, one bomb was enough in 2003. This order of magnitude improvement in Allied bombing efficiency was achieved by using Global Positioning System satellites to guide munitions. Given this central role of satellites in both communications and positioning, we can legitimately say that Iraq 2003 was indeed the first space war.

The lecture will address the role played by space systems in the conflicts with Iraq, with an emphasis on the contribution made to operational and tactical capabilities in 2003. The use of satellites for a variety of roles including communications, surveillance, navigation, missile warning, etc. will be illustrated, and it will be shown how certain existing strategic space assets were used in a more tactical fashion during the conflict. The lecture will conclude with some speculations on how the lessons learned in Iraq are likely to drive the development of future military space systems.