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MDA Leader: China Can’t Kill Systems By Shooting Down U.S. Satellites

By | February 5, 2007

      China can’t blind U.S. military forces communications or the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system by shooting down American satellites, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), said.

      His comments came after China sent a ground-based missile aloft hundreds of miles to destroy an aging Chinese satellite, spraying a lethal cloud of debris in space that could imperil satellites, spacecraft and astronauts.

      He spoke before a science and public policy symposium of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank, held at the National Press Club, and then spoke afterward with defense journalists.

      O’Reilly was asked whether China could use its newly demonstrated capability to blind the United States at a critical moment, such as knocking out its missile defense system at a moment it is needed urgently.

      “Our system has … many different layers involved and many different communications systems, both undersea fiber-optic, satellites, hardened terrestrial” assets and the like, O’Reilly said.

      “And so … that would only take one aspect out, if we lost” a satellite or constellation.

      An enemy couldn’t obliterate U.S. communications, intelligence and other netted assets with a simple strike against one or more satellites, O’Reilly indicated.

      “There [are] multiple other communications, long-haul communications systems which we use,” he said. “And those systems themselves have hundreds and hundreds of backup lines in them.”

      This multi-legged approach provides safety to the U.S. military, he said.

      “We’re not built around a single thread,” O’Reilly continued. “And removing that thread would not affect – it would be indicated by the system [that a component of the system was obliterated], but it would not affect it.”

      Overall, “the impacts that that” move by an enemy to destroy U.S. satellites “would have on the ballistic missile defense system would be marginal,” O’;Reilly said.

      That is why, he indicated, at the MDA, when news of the Chinese satellite shoot-down came, there was no consternation, “none.”

      Asked whether MDA detected the Chinese missile launch when it occurred, O’Reilly said, “I can’t get into the details of that, but we have a pretty extensive system” of sensors able to detect missile launches around the world, “not only ours but the Air Force and space-based systems,” he explained.

      And, he added, a major missile launch is spotted with ease. “That’s a pretty visible event when they do something like that,” he said.

      In his speech, O’Reilly laid out just why the United States must press forward to field a workable BMD shield against missiles that might be fired from Asia, or from the Middle East.

      He said later that his comments reflected the situation, including fiscal policies, in the current budget for the fiscal year 2007 ending Sept. 30, and did not reflect the fiscal 2008 MDA budget plan that President Bush unveiled today.

      More than 20 nations possess ballistic missiles, and chemical, biological or nuclear weapons may be delivered by such missiles.

      A nuclear strike on a city may cause millions of deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses.

      Many nations are working to increase missile range, lethality and countermeasures.

      Since 2002, there have been an average of 90 foreign ballistic missiles launches per year – and last year there were about 100.

      O’Reilly also was asked about the apparent failure of a National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite, and whether that problem concerns MDA as far as the potential for similar problems in other space assets such as radars in space.

      He said that MDA follows a very disciplined approach to preparation for flight tests, so that “we have very high confidence when we launch” a new asset.

      When MDA suffered a failure in past programs, it stemmed from failure to adhere to the disciplined approach, he said.

      “As you can see by our whole string of successes, we have a very proven approach” to the situation, he said, with “high confidence on [any] weapon system launches.”

      O’Reilly also said he was pleased with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, success in intercepting a target missile during a weekend test.

      “It worked very well, and met all test flight objectives,” he said.

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