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Brass Debate Whether New Platform Needed To Counter ASAT Threat

By | September 24, 2007

      Pentagon leaders are debating whether existing platforms such as the multi-layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield will suffice to counter emerging anti-satellite threats, or whether some new platform or systems are required, an Air Force general said.

      Brig. Gen. William N. McCasland, director of Air Force space acquisitions, spoke after China this year proved it can destroy U.S. space assets such as satellites and spacecraft, in a test where China used a ground-based missile to hit and demolish one of its own aging weather satellites.

      That raised questions as to whether existing U.S. BMD systems should be tasked with killing any enemy anti-satellite (ASAT) systems, or whether some new, specifically dedicated ASAT systems might be required. In any event, there also is a question as to which agency at the Pentagon should be tasked with the mission.

      Officially, the Air Force has put in place a program objective memorandum (POM), McCasland said. He responded to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report after he addressed a luncheon of the Washington Space Business Roundtable. McCasland said that yes, he does support the POM, which includes existing platform programs.

      "But we don’t believe that has put in place all of the elements," he added. "We aren’t bringing the POM up to say, ‘This closes the book.’"

      Rather, he said, in fact "there is a lot of fundamental Con Ops (concept of operations) policy — there’s things outside the space enterprise that we need to connect with to come to and anchor conclusions as to what space enterprise needs to do, specifically."

      In other words, no final decision has yet been made.

      "It depends," he said, "on a national risk policy balance."

      This has been a spirited discussion, he indicated. "Debate has been stimulating," he said.

      He also focused on which agency should perform the mission of guarding against anti-satellite threats.

      For the Air Force, the service "believes that it is our mission to organize, train and equip to secure the space domain. But the particular functions that would be assigned the Air Force, that’s not clear yet, what people want the Air Force to do."

      The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) exists to develop a multi-layered shield against enemy ballistic missiles aimed at the United States, its forces or allies and interests, but the plan is that once developed and operational, those systems would transition to the existing armed forces.

      MDA leaders have said frequently that MDA hasn’t been given the added task of providing ASAT protections, so that MDA remains focused on missile defense.

      Clearly, McCasland said, some platforms that MDA develops will transition to the Air Force for operational execution. And that is a huge bonus for the Air Force, he said, since it receives already developed systems representing immense funding investments.

      Another benefit is that, say, a surveillance system designed to counter a hopefully rare occurrence such as the launch of an enemy ballistic missile also can handle an ongoing and enduring mission of providing continuous space situational awareness, he said.

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