Space Force gets its first weapon: a satellite jammer

And the first sci-fi weapon the Space Force gets is....a device to scramble communications?

A recent image of the new radar jammers

Courtesy Photo by @L3HarrisTech
  • The United States Space Force recently got its first real weapon, a satellite communications jammer.
  • The device was previously used by the Air Force.
  • While seemingly mundane, the jammer will serve a very real purpose on the battlefield.

The United States Space Force has just gotten its first offensive weapon, a satellite jammer. While it might not be the kind of weapon that most people would have expected a space force to start with, the potential applications of the device will undoubtedly play a large part in future operations around the world.

I was expecting a laser of some kind, what is this?

The Counter Communications System Block 10.2, or CCS, is an upgrade to a previous device used by the United States Air Force for several years. The mechanism is understood to be a jammer that consists of a large trailer-mounted dish. When used, it scrambles incoming transmissions from enemy satellites. The effect is not permanent, allowing for communications to be restored after the device is turned off.

It would be used in combat operations to deny the benefits of satellite communications to enemy forces, a major factor in combat operations for any modern army.

How does it work?

We don't have the exact details of how it works—however, Maj. Seth Horner explained the recent updates to it by saying, "CCS has had incremental upgrades since the early 2000's, which have incorporated new techniques, frequency bands, technology refreshes, and lessons learned from previous block upgrades. This specific upgrade includes new software capabilities to counter new adversary targets and threats."

Popular Mechanics also found a technical source which speculates on the potential specifications of CCS:

"...it is reasonable to conclude that CCS can likely jam most of the major commercial frequencies (particularly C and Ku) and the most common military frequencies (X-band), with a possible capability in the increasingly popular Ka band. Also, it is likely that the CCS is targeted mainly at geostationary communications satellites (COMSATs), given that they are currently the primary source of satellite communications."

A recent tweet shows what the jammer looks like

Why is the Space Force getting this, if the Air Force already had it?

While the idea of blowing up satellites with lasers or rockets seems like more fun, some considerations make a jammer more practical than the alternatives.

A kinetic weapon, like a missile, being used to blow up enemy satellites would first have to get up to where military satellites orbit, a bit higher than where other ones tend to be. While this is not an impossible task, it is a problem to solve. After it blows up the target, the issue of debris would start. Even small pieces of space junk can tear other satellites apart, imagine what collateral damage could be caused by the results of this kind of action.

As for lasers, the kinks in laser weapons are still being worked out. There is a reason the Strategic Defense Initiative never worked.

The Space Force is getting this weapon because it does exactly what the Space Force is supposed to be doing according to its mission. This includes providing support for the other branches, when that support involves space. Stopping satellite communications to and from enemy units fits the bill.

Does anybody else have this capability?

The Russians, who had an independent Space Force on two separate occasions, have a similar weapon called the "Tirada-2S" However, as is standard for Russia, details are lacking. The Chinese are also working on a similar device.

With the transfer of the CCS to the Space Force, it now takes on offensive capabilities. While it may not be as flashy as Ion Cannons, Strategic Defense Initiatives, or Death Stars, the ability to jam a communications satellite will undoubtedly prove vital in future combat operations.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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