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General: US Must Check Capability After Chinese Anti-Satellite Test

The top U.S. military officer says the United States needs to look at its own capabilities in the wake of China's anti-satellite weapon test last month, with a view toward closing any capability gap that now exists. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, told a Senate committee the Chinese anti-satellite capability is "very worrying."

"It is a unique capacity in the world and we need to take a look at where are we with regard to that capacity, where should be, and if there is a gap, how we close it," he said. "It is something that deserves very close attention."

But General Pace said the Chinese anti-satellite weapon is only a threat if China intends to use it, and he said there is no indication of that so far. At the same hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the Chinese test "very troubling," and said he, too, is concerned about China's intentions.

"What is as troubling as the technical achievement is how one interprets it as a part of their own strategic outlook and how they would anticipate using that kind of a capability in the event of a conflict, and the consequences for us of that," he noted.

In early January, China used a missile to destroy one of its own satellites. It was the first anti-satellite test in the world since the United States and the Soviet Union tested similar weapons 20 years ago. Both countries abandoned their anti-satellite programs after that.

Last week, the deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said his organization could fairly easily develop a system to counter China's new anti-satellite weapon, but it has not been told to do so. He and other U.S. military officials have said China's newly demonstrated ability to shoot down satellites does not threaten critical U.S. capabilities.

The U.S. military relies on satellites for many functions, ranging from weather reports to targeting for combat forces and the new missile defense system. But the military officials say the space-based systems have multiple backup capabilities that ensure the flow of data, even if some satellites or ground stations are attacked.

The United States and the Soviet Union dropped their anti-satellite weapons programs partly because of the dangers posed by space debris created when a satellite is destroyed. Space experts say the Chinese test in January scattered thousands of pieces of debris in an orbit used by many countries for a variety of purposes. They say the debris poses a danger to other satellites, as well as manned spacecraft.