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DoD News Briefing

Thursday, October 23, 1997 - 2 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: Can you discuss the MIRACL laser test, including how many bursts were actually fired at the satellite, whether you got data back from the satellite, and whether or not the test was successful.

A: I'm not sure I'm going to be able to answer all your questions, but let me talk a little bit about MIRACL.

First of all, the test did take place on October 17th during a two minute period in the evening. And we did receive data back. We did not receive as much data as we wanted to. The people who conducted the test regard it as a partial success. They didn't get as much as they wanted, but they got something. Let me walk through some of this with you.

The test, as you know, was designed to evaluate the vulnerability of our satellites to two types of laser events. One would be an inadvertent lasing of a satellite. You might ask how could satellites be hit inadvertently by a laser beam? Hundreds of lasers are put into space in an average year for a variety of purposes -- from measuring continental drift, to calibrating instruments, to measuring distances between objects in space, and it's possible that one of our satellites could go inadvertently into the beam of one of these, or the beam could hit it inadvertently. So that's one of the things we were testing for.

Secondly, we were testing the vulnerability of our satellites to a laser aimed at one of our satellites by somebody who might want to blind the satellite or disable it in some way. As I said, the test was done to learn how our satellites respond to laser beams of certain powers.

Now the beam was calibrated so that it would not be done at a power level high enough to destroy the satellite or the sensors. It was purposely ramped down so that we could test the response of the sensors to laser beams without disabling the sensors.

The parts of the test that were successful were: one, we were able to locate and track the satellite at several different power levels. Two, we were able to lase the satellite or hit the satellite with laser beams that replicated both an inadvertent laser event and an intentional laser event. We were able to confirm that this happened. We were able to confirm that the power levels were correct and that it did not permanently disable the sensors. We were able to confirm that the sensors were hit. But we did not get a full response from the satellite. In other words, all the information we wanted back from the satellite.

We basically had three sources of data during this test. The first was telemetry data, digital data sent back by the satellite. We got that. The second were pictures from the sensors of what was happening when it was hit by the laser. We did not get all that we wanted from that because of problems getting information back from the satellite. Third, there were some sensors on the ground that were able to give us information about the satellite. We did get information from that. So that was the information that allowed us to confirm that the beam was on the satellite and that it hit the satellite as intended.

Q: Are we to take it then that the lack of information that you received didn't allow you to determine if and whether the satellite sensors had been denigrated in any way? I mean, that was the object, to determine if these laser things would denigrate satellite sensors. You weren't attempting to destroy them, but you were attempting to show whether these things were denigrated.

A: Yes. We did not get as much visual information; that is, information back from the sensors on the satellite, as we wanted. We wanted visual information that would tell us about the effects of the laser on the sensors at high power. We did not get as much of that information back as we wanted to.

Q: Actual pictures...

A: We would like to see, as it was described to me -- as you look into a bright light like this, if you just see sort of a white screen, that's what you would get when the laser was aimed right at the sensor, and you would get that picture back. We did not get that. So it was partially successful. We got some information, we didn't get as much as we wanted.

Now I should tell you that the results are still being analyzed and it will take several weeks to complete the analysis of the results.

One of the reasons we do tests... If we knew the answer to every question, we would not have to do any tests. The reason we do tests is to learn, and this was a learning experience. One of the things we learned about was I guess something that hadn't been realized ahead of time, about the functioning of the data transfer, the data transmitting machinery on the satellite and how its buffers operate. That's one of the reasons we didn't get...

Q: So in effect, you know that you hit the satellite, which you knew before, although you hadn't tested it. You knew you could do that. But you don't know what effect it had on the sensors.

A: No, that's not a fully accurate statement. We know some effects that it had on the sensor. We don't know as much as we'd hoped to learn.

Q: What did you learn about the vulnerability of the sensors? And if you learned enough, determine how to protect our satellites in the future from such laser activity?

A: That's the type of information we're still analyzing.

Q: Is that what the test was about?

A: Well, as I said, the test occurred on the 17th. Today is the 23rd. It will take us several more weeks to complete analyzing the data. So it's, I think, premature to talk about everything we've learned about this, and it's premature to talk about all of the lessons that we've learned from this test. That will come later. But we didn't learn as much as we hoped. We did learn something. Now we're trying to figure out all that we learned and what the implications of that are.

Q: Is it correct to say that the laser overwhelmed the sensor that was unable to send back the data...

A: That's not the issue.

Q: Or was it not the sensor...

A: The issue has to do with whether, essentially, the transmitters can listen and talk at the same time, and could it receive information while sending back information. In the simplest terms, the answer is, not as well as we hoped.

Information was being sent to the satellite during the test to give it some directions, and it turns out that it could not receive and send back information at the same time. So we missed...

Q: It's data flow, right?

A: Data flow, yeah.

Q: So you were sending up a data message to it on the one hand, then you hit it with a laser at that...

A: And it was not able to transmit back all the information we hoped it would be able to send back.

Q: Partly because of the laser beam arriving at the same time.

A: Right.

Q: So it did somehow mess up the ability of the satellite to function.

A: No, no, no.

Q: Was it because of the laser beam arriving at the same time or...

A: It's mainly a communications transmission problem. It's an information...

Q: Would this have happened whether or not you lased it or not?

A: The issue, as I said, whether the satellite can talk and listen at the same time.

Q: Regardless of whether you lased it, it would have trouble talking and listening?

A: Well...

Q: I'm trying to figure out what's the difference in having it lased made to the...

A: Because it was getting information that we had hoped it would be sending back immediately. It could not send back information at the same time it was receiving information. That's my understanding of the problem. It was a data transmission problem.

Q: Is that from human error?

A: As I said, this is a test. If we knew how everything worked, we wouldn't have to test anything.

Q: It would ordinarily be able to receive and transmit information?

A: It would ordinarily not have been receiving information at the time a test was going on.

Q: So you were asking it to do something that under normal circumstances you wouldn't ask it to do. Again, I'm trying to figure out whether or not actually lasing...

A: We were trying to instruct the satellite to do something to improve the results of the test. At the same time we were trying to instruct it to do something, we were hoping it would be sending back information. Because of the way the satellite operated, because of the way its memory buffers operated, because of the way it communicated, it wasn't able to do both at the same time. So we weren't able to get back all the information from the satellite during the test that we'd hoped to get back.

Q: But you're saying that had nothing...

A: Some of the information we thought might have been stored in the satellite buffer, memory buffer, was not. Therefore, it was not transmitted at a later time.

Q: How many bursts of light and at what duration...

A: Well, there were about half a dozen, maybe. Half a dozen bursts. Several bursts. They were all around five seconds.

Q: You're saying there was no causal relationship between the laser being fired and the satellite's ability to send and receive data?

A: I'm saying there was a communications problem that prevented us...

Q: I understand that, but...

A: That's all I'm saying. There was a communications problem that prevented the satellite from sending back the data we'd hoped to get.

Q: But the laser didn't cause the satellite's communications problem, to your knowledge.

A: To my knowledge, that was not the problem.

Q: Does the satellite retain or remain useful as an experimental tool for this?

A: The satellite, as of today, is going into eclipse, which means that it will gradually... It will lose power. The photo cells on it will be out of sunlight, won't be able to recharge the battery. So we don't believe that this satellite will be able to be used again for a test.

Q: There is no other target at present?

A: This experiment is over.

Q: Can you explain what the telemetry data was, and...

A: I can't.

Q: Kind of an administrative question. Earlier in the month when Secretary Cohen approved the test, my question is why, given all the interest, why not put out a news release on Monday announcing that you conducted a test? It was kind of a haphazard way of telling the press corps that it happened. Or Friday or Saturday, whenever.

A: I didn't learn that the test had been conducted until Monday, and I believe on Monday we did announce that the test had occurred, didn't we?

Q: No.

A: Well, anyway, if you asked us we told you.

Q: Does the Pentagon have intentions to continue to develop ground-based laser weapons?

A: Wait a minute. This is not a question of ground-based laser weapons. This was done to test the satellite -- the vulnerability of the satellite. It was not done to develop the laser.

Q: But are there intentions to continue developing the MIRACL?

A: I can't answer that question. The development of the MIRACL wasn't an issue here. The issue was the vulnerability of the satellite.

Q: I understand, I'm going in a new direction.

A: I'm not prepared to go there. I don't know the answer to that question.

Q: Did you learn anything from this experiment that could be used for offensive types of actions?

A: That wasn't the goal of the experiment. The goal of the experiment...

Q: learned anything.

A: We are in the process of analyzing the results, and the results were designed to test the vulnerability of the satellite.

Q: You're saying it was to test two things. One, casual accidental lasing of a satellite, probably short duration; and another, the ability of a laser to destroy a satellite. The Pentagon already knows that if you...

A: I did not say that we were testing the ability of a laser to destroy the satellite.

Q: All right. You said it's to test the vulnerability of the satellite, to intentional attack or lasing, from a laser.

A: Right.

Q: The Pentagon already knows if they turned that laser on for 30 seconds, I guess, it could destroy the satellite.

A: I think one of the things we've learned from this particular test, since we had to try it three times before we could acquire the satellite in the laser's beam, is that sometimes acquiring the satellite isn't that easy.

Q: Do you have the power level for the lasing?

A: I don't.

Q: Can you talk about the memory buffer of the satellite, in sort of relative terms like a personal computer? How much memory does this satellite have?

A: I don't know.


Q: Can we go back to a previous subject very briefly? This whole thing about the laser. You said we know some effects it had on the sensors. What were the effects? Did it in any way blind or denigrate [the sensors]?

A: No.

Q: Temporarily? What are the effects you know it had on the sensors.

A: We don't believe that it disabled the sensors at these levels, but as I say, the results are still being analyzed and we won't know the full answers to some of these questions for some time.

Q: To put it another way, after the two minutes of testing, was the satellite as functional, operationally function as...

A: I can't answer that question. We're still evaluating that information.


Press: Thank you.

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