Friday, May 05, 2006

U.S. Air Force Plans Space Laser Test in FY 07

The U.S. Air Force has requested $5.7 million in funding for fiscal year (FY) 2007 to fire a laser from its Starfire Optical Range in New Mexico at a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite, as part of a program testing and developing “advanced weapons technologies.” Although Air Force officials have told congressional staff and the media that there are “no current plans” for developing antisatellite (ASAT) weapons and that the current focus of the laser test is on benign satellite imaging, they have admitted that the laser test would demonstrate ASAT capabilities.

As such, the test – if allowed to go forward – would represent the first declared test of ASAT technology in more than two decades. The last declared U.S. ASAT tests was the 1985 launch by an F-15 fighter of a missile against the Air Force’s Solwind satellite, which resulted in the creation of more than 250 pieces of space debris, some of which did not reenter Earth’s atmosphere until 2002.

The use of a laser with declared ASAT applicability against a satellite would be a significant break with past U.S. practice of eschewing ASAT testing and would have major political ramifications. Considering that there has been little congressional and public debate about the wisdom of any U.S. policy shift to embrace ASATs and space-based weapons – breaking a 40-year international taboo -- Congress should prohibit the Air Force from putting the technological horse in front of the policy cart.

Link to the Starfire Optical Range website

Excellent review at by Jeffery Lewis


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