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Agence France Presse May 18, 2005

White House Says It Is Not Looking at Weaponizing Space

By Jim Mannion

The White House said May 18 it is updating its space policy but denied a newspaper report that the changes under consideration could lead to the fielding of offensive and defensive weapons in space.

“Let me make that clear right off the top, because you asked about the weaponization of space, and the policy that we’re talking about is not looking at weaponizing space,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

“We have a draft updated national space policy that is going through the interagency review process,” he said.

However, McClellan said the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush wants to ensure that its space assets are adequately protected.

A U.S. defense official, addressing the issue on the condition of anonymity, said the new policy would make protecting space assets “a top priority.”

Officials note that the existing policy, which was signed by then president Bill Clinton in 1996, already instructs the military to field “space control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, to deny such freedom of action in space to adversaries.”

But the new policy would call more directly for the deployment of capabilities that ensure that space systems or services cannot be used for purposes hostile to U.S. national interests, according to background briefing material made available to Agence France-Presse by the official.

The material stressed that the changes did not mean the president was committed to deploying weapons in space, although it did not rule it out.

“Just as it is with other types of weapons systems, it is the responsibility of the Department of Defense to field the most appropriate capabilities to address the existing and projected threat,” it stated.

A report in The New York Times, which drew the White House denial May 18, said the changes being proposed represented a substantial shift in policy, and said the U.S. Air Force was seeking a presidential directive that could move the United States closer to fielding offensive and defensive weapons in space.

McClellan said space policy needed to be updated to take into account “a number of domestic and international developments that have changed the threats and challenges facing our space capabilities.”

The United States has refrained from deploying weapons in space as a matter of policy since the Eisenhower administration. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty signed by the United States, Britain and Russia forbids putting weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on platforms in space.

But no treaty bars the United States or any other country from putting other weapons in space, and analysts say the Air Force has been positioning itself to assure the United States has “space superiority.”

Satellites are crucial to U.S. military operations on Earth.

On April 11, the Air Force announced the launch of a self-maneuvering micro-satellite, called XSS-11. Its mission is to rendezvous with an object in space, get close enough to inspect it, and circumnavigate it, the Air Force said.

Pentagon officials said the satellite was developed to inspect and maintain satellites. But analysts said the same capability could be used for killer satellites.

“You can easily see it as an anti-satellite weapon,” said John Pike, an expert at globalsecurity.org, who recalled that Air Force experiments with anti-satellite weapons in the 1960s also were devised to inspect Soviet satellites to see whether they were carrying nuclear arms.

Another space-related weapon under development is the common aero vehicle, a kind of space bomber. Unlike a ballistic missile, it would navigate to its target once it renters the atmosphere.

It is currently envisioned as a ground-based system not a space-based system, but some analysts suggest it could be based on platforms in space.

Missile defense research projects such as space-based lasers or kinetic energy boost phase interceptor missiles also blur the line between missile defense and space weapons.


Copyright 2005, Agence France Presse