Iran reportedly used commercial satellite imagery to target the U.S. military base at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq during last year’s reprisal attack for President Trump’s drone strike against Iranian terror master Qassem Soleimani. The CBS 60 Minutes TV news reported how Iran tried to use commercially available satellite imagery to monitor and then attack the base with a barrage of ballistic missiles days after the Soleimani strike.
The report said that Iran purchased satellite images of the base on the day of the attack, and U.S. Central Command was aware of it. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin said that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie then closely tied the evacuation of the base to the timing of Iran’s purchase of the satellite imagery.
According to C4ISR.net, “McKenzie waited until Iran had purchased its last satellite image of the day before evacuating the base, ensuring that Iran was acting on out-of-date images, he said in the interview.” McKenzie also explained: “If you go too early, you risk the problem that the enemy will see what you have done and adjust his plans.”
He added: “They [Iran] would have seen airplanes on the ground and people working. I think they expected to destroy a number of U.S. aircraft and to kill a number of U.S. service members.”
This, and other early intelligence that an attack was imminent, combined with a critical early warning from the Space Force’s missile warning satellite system, however, ensured a far different outcome.
Instead of a deadly attack, noted C4ISR.net:
…the missile attack damaged the base, equipment and a helicopter, and 110 people had to be treated for traumatic brain injuries. But no one was killed…
It is unclear which satellite imagery provider Iran used to obtain the images, or how and when the U.S. military knew Iran was purchasing the images of the base.
But, as commercially available satellite imagery has gotten ever more sophisticated and high resolution, the issue of commercial satellite imagery being used by rogue regimes and terror groups has grown dramatically.
For now, at least, it appears the U.S. intelligence community and Pentagon still have the upper hand.