Tuesday, January 16, 2007

China and Russia are developing space weapons and are among several nations working on systems to threaten U.S. satellites with lasers or missiles, says the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

In Senate testimony last week, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples for the first time raised Pentagon concerns about secret Chinese and Russian space weapons programs.

“Russia and China continue to be the primary states of concern regarding military space and counterspace programs,” Gen. Maples said at the annual threat briefing of the Senate intelligence committee.

Gen. Maples said that “several countries continue to develop capabilities that have the potential to threaten U.S. space assets, and some have already deployed systems with inherent anti-satellite capabilities, such as satellite-tracking laser range-finding devices and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.”

Other countries are working on improving space-object tracking and “kinetic or directed energy weapons capabilities.”

Gen. Maples did not discuss the reported testing of a Chinese anti-satellite laser against a U.S. satellite, which triggered high-level Bush administration worries about Beijing’s growing space-weapons program.

U.S. officials said details about the Chinese anti-satellite laser shot remain classified so as not to alert China about U.S. knowledge of what intelligence officials say may have been a test shot of an anti-satellite weapon.

China has developed several types of ground-based lasers with Russian and Israeli technology, U.S. officials have said.

Russia developed anti-satellite weapons during the Cold War, and U.S. officials think the Russian military is continuing work on the weapons, which include both anti-satellite missiles and ground-based lasers.

Both Russia and China deny that they are building space weapons and have sought to curb U.S. space defenses through a proposed international ban on weapons in space.

The Air Force in 2004 deployed the 76th Space Control Squadron, which can disrupt or knock out foreign satellites using electronic jammers from the ground.

Nations other than Russia and China that have space capabilities in key areas also “will acquire military and commercial space-based assets,” Gen. Maples said.

“Increasing levels of international cooperation, along with the growing number of commercial space consortia, is allowing the proliferation of advanced satellite technologies and knowledge of space systems operations to become available to nations lacking a domestic space capability,” he said.

Gen. Maples said that building space weapons is “financially taxing” and that “most countries assessed to be pursuing these capabilities are not expected to acquire them within the next few years.”

He warned, however, that less-developed states and “nonstate entities” also “are pursuing more limited and asymmetric approaches that do not require excessive financial resources or a high-tech industrial base.”

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