'Peaceful' space putting on Khaki

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) - The Americans seem determined to flood space with weapons. In early April U.S. Director of the Missile Defense Agency Lieutenant General Henry Obering again called for the early deployment of space based missile defense systems, a universal means of hitting either ground or space targets.

His Russian counterpart and long-time opponent on this issue, Space Forces Commander Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin, responded in late May, warning for the umpteenth time: "We are against any deployment or placement of weapons in outer space, as it is one of the few realms where frontiers do not exist. Militarization of outer space will disrupt the current balance in the world." The Russian general is seriously worried that space-based attack weapons could increase the risk of igniting hostilities on the ground.

The long-distance dispute between the two generals apart, let us recall that the defensive doctrines of most industrialized countries are space-oriented. Satellite systems are involved in every aspect of an industrialized country's activity, warfare included. The majority of modern weapon systems, both nuclear and conventional, include space-based components.

Russia is behind the U.S. in development and deployment of space-based systems. The figures are far from encouraging. A total of around 500 American and 100 Russian satellites are currently orbiting the Earth. The U.S. military satellite fleet is more than four times the size of Russia's, and some of the orbiting Russian satellites are inoperable.

The Americans also have the Navstar global positioning system (GPS), which has already been working successfully for several years. Russia's equivalent, the widely publicized GLONASS, is undergoing its initial deployment, with only 12 operable satellites presently in orbit compared to 31 American ones.

Obviously the Pentagon can afford to speak of space-based weapons deployment, possessing such impressive assets.

Now back to General Popovkin's idea that space-based weapons could spark a war. He says that present space systems and complexes are very sophisticated and susceptible to failures, and "in such cases I cannot guarantee that a failure was not caused by hostile action."

Is this statement logical? Surely it is. Strategic nuclear stability - i.e. a high degree guarantee against a surprise nuclear missile strike - depends on the trouble-free operation of early warning and intelligence satellites. If a satellite fails with another country's attack weapons deployed in orbit, there will be an increase of mistrust, which could lead to a military disaster.

Besides, it is well known that tests involving satellite destruction result in a growing amount of orbital debris, which is difficult to counter. According to NASA and the U.S. Air Force, China's anti-satellite weapon tests in January 2007 left up to 2,000 baseball-sized fragments orbiting at altitudes of 200-4,000 km. High speed makes these fragments extremely dangerous for man-made space objects.

An international treaty banning weapons from outer space would certainly help avoid more such trouble, or at least minimize the risks. Yet the U.S. stubbornly sticks to the opinion that such an agreement would be impracticable.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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