The deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency says 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. The official, who spoke in Washington Monday, also said the new Chinese weapon does not threaten the U.S. ability to detect and intercept incoming ballistic missiles. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly says the Missile Defense Agency's system, designed to destroy ballistic missiles heading for targets in the United States, uses the same type of technology that could be used to counter China's anti-satellite weapon.

"We have tremendous kinematic [launch] capability with our missiles," said General O'Reilly. "We have the sensors and the battle management [system], so that work would be straightforward if we were given that guidance and mandate to do, but we haven't at this time."

General O'Reilly declined to say how long it might take to adapt the anti-missile technology designed to protect targets on the ground to make it protect targets in space. The general says the issue would require focused research and planning, which has not even begun because President Bush has not asked for it.

When China shot down one of its own satellites three weeks ago, many experts expressed concern that the new weapon could threaten U.S. satellites and the many military and civilian capabilities they provide. But General O'Reilly says the weapon does not threaten the new U.S. missile defense shield.

"Our system has many different layers involved, and many different communication systems, undersea, fiber optic, satellites, hardened terrestrial," he said. "And those systems themselves have hundreds and hundreds of backup lines in them. So we're not built around a single thread. Our infrastructure is very robust, very hardened and very diverse and dispersed."

General O'Reilly also said the capabilities of the U.S. missile defense system are growing steadily, with additional interceptor missiles being installed at facilities in California and Alaska. He said there was another successful test last Friday, in which an interceptor missile destroyed a target vehicle at a very high altitute. He also reported that the system's radar capability is increasing with a powerful new sea-based radar nearly ready to come on line.

The missile defense system is currently aimed at protecting the United States against a ballistic missile attack from North Korea or Iran. Although the system is not fully operational, the general said he is confident it would have responded successfully if last July's North Korean missile tests had threatened the United States.

To enhance the Iran part of the system, the Missile Defense Agency has opened talks with Poland and the Czech Republic. Under the plan, the Czech Republic would host a radar system and Poland would host a missile array. General O'Reilly says those talks are at a very early stage and he would not discuss concerns expressed in those countries that they could become targets if they host U.S. facilities.

The general said the agency is also working to ease Russian concerns about the eastern Europe plan. He says the anti-missile capability planned for Poland and the Czech Republic is small and would not threaten Russia's ballistic missile force. The general also reported that the Missile Defense Agency is working with a variety of other countries on various issues related to its work, including Ukraine, India, France and Spain.