Thursday, May 04, 2006

Satellite Laser Weapon Becoming a Reality

The Bush administration is seeking to develop a powerful ground-based laser weapon that would use beams of concentrated light to destroy enemy satellites in orbit.

The largely secret project, parts of which have been made public through Air Force budget documents submitted to Congress in February, is part of a wide-ranging effort to develop space weapons, both defensive and offensive. No treaty or law forbids such work.

The laser research was described by federal officials who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the topic's political sensitivity. The White House has recently sought to play down the issue of space arms, fearing it could become an election-year liability.

Indeed, last week Republicans and Democrats on a House Armed Services subcommittee moved unanimously to cut research money for the project in the administration's budget for the 2007 fiscal year. While Republicans on the panel would not discuss their reasons for the action, Congressional aides said it reflected a bipartisan consensus for moving cautiously on space weaponry, a potentially controversial issue that has yet to be much debated.

The full committee is expected to take up the budget issue today. The laser research is far more ambitious than a previous effort by the Clinton administration nearly a decade ago to test an antisatellite laser. It would take advantage of an optical technique that uses sensors, computers and flexible mirrors to counteract the atmospheric turbulence that seems to make stars twinkle.
The weapon would essentially reverse that process, shooting focused beams of light upward with great clarity and force. Though futuristic and technically challenging, the laser work is relatively inexpensive by government standards ? about $20 million in 2006, with planned increases to some $30 million by 2011 ? partly because no weapons are as yet being built and partly because the work is being done at an existing base, an unclassified government observatory called Starfire in the New Mexico desert.

In interviews, military officials defended the laser research as prudent, given the potential need for space arms to defend American satellites against attack in the years and decades ahead. "The White House wants us to do space defense," said a senior Pentagon official who oversees many space programs, including the laser effort. "We need that ability to protect our assets" in orbit.

But some Congressional Democrats and other experts fault the research as potential fuel for an antisatellite arms race that could ultimately hurt this nation more than others because the United States relies so heavily on military satellites, which aid navigation, reconnaissance and attack warning.

In a statement, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat on the subcommittee who opposes the laser's development, thanked her Republican colleagues for agreeing to curb a program "with the potential to weaponize space."

Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a private group in Washington that tracks military programs, said the subcommittee's action last week was a significant break with the administration. "It's really the first time you've seen the Republican-led Congress acknowledge that these issues require public scrutiny," she said.

In a statement, the House panel, the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, made no reference to such policy disagreements but simply said that "none of the funds authorized for this program shall be used for the development of laser space technologies with antisatellite purposes."

It is unclear whether the Republican-controlled Congress will sustain the subcommittee's proposed cut to the administration's request, even if the full House Armed Services Committee backs the reduction.

The Air Force has pursued the secret research for several years but discussed it in new detail in its February budget request. The documents stated that for the 2007 fiscal year, starting in October, the research will seek to "demonstrate fully compensated laser propagation to low earth orbit satellites."

The documents listed several potential uses of the laser research, the first being "antisatellite weapons."


I think it is about time we got a laser weapon in space, not that I am a violent person or anything, it is just that if we don't some other country will.

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?