The X-37 may be better suited than satellites at surprise inspections of an opponent's activities including submarine movements.
The X-37 and stealthy UAVs have several advantages over satellites:
- they can be launched to observe specific opponent activities more frequently and at lower cost than satellites.
- mission hardware and software can be changed for specific tasks each time they land.
- they can alter their orbital and flight course, altitude and speed to optimise intelligence gathering from opponents' submarines (snorkels, periscopes and subtle wakes) ships, satellites, mobile and fixed land targets and weapons tests,
- for data security reasons X-37s and UAVs would encrypt data and specifically direct the data streams to friendly earth stations. Its unknown the extent this would foil interception of the data and detection and destruction of the X-37s/UAVs themselves by beam following missiles,
- rather than X-37s and UAVs transmitting all data to US ground stations (which may threaten data security and give away position) they can retain the most sensitive data in hard disks and then transfer data after landing)
- to minimise detectability and improve data security the X-37 and UAVs could relay data to and from US satellites.
While countries wishing to conduct ground operations or weapons tests can time these activities to evade scrutiny from predictably orbiting US GSO and LEO sattellites the X-37 can create surprise by altering its orbit. When this orbiting flexibility is combined with the X-37's orbital speed of 17,500 mph (28,200 km/h) the X-37 can catch its opponent's activities and tests that hitherto could be hidden.
Stealthy, fast moving and ultimately expendable UAVs can also be launched from (say) Afghanistan to conduct surpise inspections of weapons tests in Iran, Pakistan as well as China and Russia.
The X-37 and stealthy UAVs have therefore revolutionized intelligence gathering.