The United States lacks defenses against a large-scale nuclear attack. Instead, it depends on the threat of retaliation to deter aggression. But deterrence can’t work unless U.S. command authorities have timely warning that an attack is under way. The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS, or “Sibbers”) was conceived to provide that warning. It consists of four geosynchronous satellites orbiting above the equator that scan and stare at the Earth’s surface for bursts of infrared energy, plus two additional sensors piggybacked on spy satellites flying over the North Pole. A ground segment monitors indications received from the satellites and disseminates information to users — including not just nuclear operators, but the intelligence community and tactical commanders in places like the Middle East. Without SBIRS, the entire edifice of nuclear deterrence might crumble in a crisis, so it’s crucial the system be kept functioning smoothly 24-7. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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