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Russia Concerned U.S. May Create BMD System In Space

By | September 25, 2006

      Russian leaders would be greatly concerned by any U.S. move to place laser or other ballistic missile defense systems in space, analysts said at a symposium.

      Depending on how great the U.S. threat in space was perceived to be, the Russian response might include a move to explode nuclear weapons in space, which would create a radiation belt that would render U.S. space assets useless. That also would annihilate functioning of Russian satellites, but Russia has far less to lose.

      Also, Russia is moving to create greater military ties with China, symposium participants were told.

      Russian concerns about lasers in space don’t apply to the existing multi-layered U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, such as the Airborne Laser (ABL), according to retired Russian Gen. Vladimir Dworkin, senior researcher with the Center for International Security at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Science. He spoke at the Henry L. Stimson Center in response to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report.

      This ABL system involves a 747 aircraft by The Boeing Co. [BA] and a laser by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] capable of disabling an enemy ballistic missile in its boost phase, as it rises from a launch pad or silo.

      As far as U.S. BMD systems mounted in aircraft, at ground stations or on ships at sea, “We’ve gotten used to it,” Dworkin said wryly through an interpreter, drawing laughter from participants. Russia had protested in 2001 when President Bush announced the United States would withdraw from the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile treaty.

      “We are pretty calm about deployment of U.S.” BMD systems, agreed Alexei Arbatov, scholar in residence and program co-chair of the nuclear nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who appeared with Dworkin at the symposium.

      “But,” Dworkin added, “if you’re talking about reviving … Star Wars,” the anti-ballistic missile system proposed two decades ago by then-President Reagan, perhaps by resurrecting the old Brilliant Pebbles or developing a laser BMD system, then that “would be a shock” to Russians that they would not easily get used to, Dworkin warned.

      Star Wars, properly the now-canceled Strategic Defense Initiative, would have involved a vast number of satellites in low Earth orbit capable of firing projectiles to annihilate enemy ballistic missiles.

      The more the United States pushes to develop a space-based BMD system, the more sharply Russia would be likely to respond, Dworkin said through the interpreter. The extent of deployment of a space-based system will determine the extent of any reaction by Russian forces, he cautioned.

      Arbatov specifically noted that Russians “are concerned about laser weapons in space,” predicting U.S. deployment of such a system would elicit a response from Russia that “will be negative.”

      If the United States goes too far in developing a space-based BMD system, Dworkin said, then “we have a lot of very creative people” who could produce “explosions in outer space” that would “take out all of your satellites and ours,” but in this case the United States has more to lose, Arbatov noted.

      Also, Russia has “a growing interest in cooperating with China” militarily, and “China is interested in getting what is left of Russian technology.”

      China has purchased advanced aircraft, submarines, military ships and other wares from Russian suppliers, as part of a vast multi-year Chinese military buildup. China also wields some 800 radar-guided missiles pointed across the strait toward Taiwan, a nation that China regards as a renegade province.

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