- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he is prepared to share appropriate information with Chinese authorities on Wednesday’s downing of U.S. satellite, despite China’s refusal to share information with U.S. officials on their missile-defense systems or military spending.

Mr. Gates made the remarks hours after Chinese leaders criticized the use of a U.S. missile to destroy the spy satellite.

“We provided a lot of information … before it took place,” Mr. Gates told reporters in Hawaii yesterday. “We’re prepared to share whatever, appropriately, we can.”

He said the U.S. practices included “complete transparency and letting everybody know what was going on and the purpose of the activity.”

China objected despite Beijing’s launch of a ballistic missile in January 2007 to destroy an old Chinese weather satellite. U.S. officials were shocked by the missile test and described it as a new strategic threat.

Defense Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said China has never been open with the United States about its strategic missile system or military buildup. They said Mr. Gates raised concerns to Chinese leaders during his November visit to Beijing, but the Chinese refused to respond.

Liu Jianchao, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters yesterday in Beijing that his country is gauging how the U.S. action will affect “outer-space security and relevant countries.” He said China expects the U.S. to provide “the international community necessary information and relevant data in a timely and prompt way so that relevant countries can take precautions.”

Pentagon officials said the satellite, filled with toxic hydrazine, had to be destroyed before it fell out of orbit and hit Earth.

Mr. Gates said “the operation speaks for itself” in showing that U.S. plans for a missile-defense system are realistic.

“I think the question over whether this capability works has been settled,” he said, also referring to a series of successful tests in the past several years. “The question is what kind of threat, how large a threat, how sophisticated a threat” a missile-defense system might have to fight.

At about 10:30 p.m. EST Wednesday, the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis-armed cruiser, fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3 about 150 nautical miles into space and struck the satellite at a speed of more than 17,000 mph, said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although the satellite had been out of commission for two years, it still could present a vulnerability to the United States if it fell into the control of an enemy country.

“We’re very confident that we hit the satellite,” Gen. Cartwright said. “We also have a high degree of confidence that we got the [hydrazine] tank. We’re still working our way through that. We will not be at a point where we are ready to say for sure.”

Gen. Cartwright told reporters at the Pentagon that the reason for the satellite’s failure could not be determined because it had become nonresponsive. He said the military is tracking the debris, which is starting to re-enter the atmosphere in the vicinity of the Atlantic.

The Chinese weather satellite was smashed into hundreds of pieces that are expected to stay in orbit for more than 100 years, posing a risk to human spaceflight and space infrastructure, Defense officials said.

Gen. Cartwright showed two operational videos showing how the missile destroyed the satellite. He said military officials gave an “80 to 90 percent” chance that the toxic fuel tank was destroyed but are proceeding as if it wasn’t.

“In other words, we’re posturing ourselves to go out and recover a hydrazine tank that maybe didn’t get breached,” he said, adding that it would take 24 to 48 hours to confirm whether the tank was destroyed.

This article is based on part on wire service reports.

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