No Space Weapons Vacuum

By Hackett, James T. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

No Space Weapons Vacuum


Hackett, James T., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


On June 18, The Washington Times ran an item in its "Inside the Ring" section quoting Pentagon intelligence sources as saying that Russia had tested in April a high-altitude weapon that fires an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. It added that the Pentagon is concerned about this Russian EMP weapon, which may be part of Moscow's anti-satellite (ASAT) development program.

Electromagnetic pulses are high-intensity energy generated by nuclear explosions or special EMP generators. An EMP is similar to a bolt of lightning - a brief but intense surge of electric energy that can cause damaging overloads in solid-state electronics. An EMP burst caused by a nuclear explosion in space could instantly disable all satellites in sight, and ground stations as well. A generated EMP pulse would have less power and shorter range, but still could burn out the electronics of a satellite or anything else at which it is directed.

It is interesting that Russia, despite severe economic distress, still can find money to develop such exotic weaponry. It shows the high priority Moscow puts on weapons for the control of space. Even as Russia demands more economic aid, its defense spending is rising rapidly. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said in June that his government plans to increase defense spending from 17.7 percent of the national budget in 1999 to more than 28 percent in 2000, nearly double the 14.8 percent the United States will spend on defense in 2000.

Missiles and space are high priorities for Moscow. Russia's military leaders have made their top priority the production and deployment of the new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile. In space, the military has asked the Duma to deorbit the Mir space station and use the money to help pay for a new fleet of military satellites. Even with 130 satellites still in orbit, most performing military missions, Russia's generals want new and improved spacecraft, especially spy satellites.

A similar emphasis on missiles and space is apparent in China, where preparations are now under way to flight test a new long-range ballistic missile, the DF-31, and then to test a submarine-launched version known as Julang II later this year.

China also is developing anti-satellite weapons. In a July 1998 report to Congress on the military modernization in China, the Department of Defense wrote that Beijing is acquiring foreign technologies that could be used to develop ASAT systems. …

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