U.S. early warning satellites and sensors designed primarily to detect the launch of missiles carrying nuclear warheads are providing daily streams of intelligence on Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria, according to defense officials.

The system, using a satellite built by Lockheed Martin and equipped with sensors from Northrop Grumman, detects heat, or infrared signatures. Combined with electronic and signals intelligence and video gathered by reconnaissance drones and aircraft, the satellites are helping to compile a running portrait of Islamic State ground positions.

“Overhead persistent infrared information from” the Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, “is used daily as one of multiple streams of intelligence information in theater,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the Pentagon’s top spokesman in Iraq, said in an email. The capability “enables us to ascertain where kinetic events like explosions are happening because the technology can track heat signatures with great fidelity,” he said.

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Image courtesy of Long War Journal