A Republican senator is criticizing what he calls the Bush administration's weak response to China's recent anti-satellite test, saying the test shows the United States needs to pursue all its options when it comes to space defense. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Senator Jon Kyl, a key advocate of strong space defense, asserts the Bush administration's distractions with the situation in Iraq contributed to what he views as a weak response to the Chinese test.
China launched a missile on January 11 that destroyed an aging (Chinese) weather satellite in Earth orbit.
Kyl notes that, while the test demonstrated China's ability to hit targets in low Earth orbit, there are indications Beijing is working toward destructive capabilities in higher orbits.
That would place important U.S. satellites, as well as those of U.S. allies, at risk. Senator Kyl asserts the Bush administration has not responded appropriately so far to what he calls "the nature and urgency of this threat":
"Since the test was reported, there has been no public statement by the president or any cabinet official, no mention in the SOU [State of the Union] speech, no congressional hearings have yet been scheduled, no indication has come out of the Pentagon that the space budget is being in any way revisited, the State Department has provided no specific information about what our diplomats are or are not saying in response to the Chinese provocation," said Jon Kyl.
After the Chinese anti-satellite test, the State Department said Beijing had assured Washington it was "not meant as a threat," or meant to spark a race to militarize space.
A National Security spokesman said China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area."
Senator Kyl says the U.S. faces a multi-faceted threat from China, including development of kinetic methods such as anti-satellite missiles, and directed energy techniques involving laser weapons.
Calling the Chinese test a "wakeup call," he asserts negotiating space arms control agreements with Beijing is unlikely to yield results that would be in the interests of U.S. security.
"We must not jeopardize our war fighters in the name of preserving an indefensible distinction between space and non-space weapons," he said. "If targeting an adversary's satellites allows our military to achieve victory more quickly, or at lower cost in blood, such attacks must be considered. The Chinese seem to understand this point much better than we do."
Kyl also listed budgetary and other decisions he says highlight "serious back-pedaling" regarding U.S. missile defense efforts in space, including cancellation of a space-based laser.
He also says Congressional committees should examine whether the Chinese anti-satellite program is based on shared or stolen U.S. technology.
In a separate event, the Deputy Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, was asked [by VOA's Pentagon correspondent] if U.S. efforts currently include steps to counter the capability demonstrated by the Chinese test:
"It is currently not one of the design requirements of the system, to counter that capability, but as you can see we have tremendous kinematic capability with our missiles, we have the sensors and the battle management, so that work would be straight forward if we were given that guidance and mandate to do, but we haven't at this time," said General O'Reilly.
The U.S. missile defense program, which has been strongly supported by President Bush, has been mostly aimed at countering any threat from North Korea.
However, the U.S. is moving forward with plans aimed at providing a missile defense shield for European countries that would address potential future threats from Iran.