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Pentagon Poised To Unveil, Demonstrate Classified Space Weapon

Pentagon Poised To Unveil, Demonstrate Classified Space Weapon

The push to declassify an existing space weapon is being spearheaded by Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Breaking Defense, Theresa Hitchens, 20 Aug 21

Directed energy anti-satellite weapons for the future. (Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON: For months, top officials at the Defense Department have been working toward declassifying the existence of a secret space weapon program and providing a real-world demonstration of its capabilities, Breaking Defense has learned.

The effort — which sources say is being championed by Gen. John Hyten, the vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff — is close enough to completion that there was a belief the anti-satellite technology might have been revealed at this year’s National Space Symposium, which kicks off next week.ampioned 

However, the crisis in Afghanistan appears to have put that on hold for now. Pulling the trigger on declassifying such a sensitive technology requires concurrence of the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, and a thumbs up from President Joe Biden, sources explain; with all arms of the national security apparatus pointed towards Kabul, that is almost certainly not going to happen next week. And until POTUS says yes, nothing is for certain, of course.

The system in question long has been cloaked in the blackest of black secrecy veils — developed as a so-called Special Access Program known only to a very few, very senior US government leaders. While exactly what capability could be unveiled is unclear, insiders say the reveal is likely to include a real-world demonstration of an active defense capability to degrade or destroy a target satellite and/or spacecraft.

At least, that is what has been on the table since last year — when officials in the Trump administration viewed revealing the technology as a capstone to the creation of Space Command and Space Force. The plan apparently had been to announce it at the 2020 Space Symposium, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the arrival of the Biden administration also led to a reevaluation of moving forward with the reveal.

Expert speculation on what could be used for the demonstration ranges from a terrestrially-based mobile laser used for blinding adversary reconnaissance sats to on-board, proximity triggered radio-frequency jammers on certain military satellites, to a high-powered microwave system that can zap electronics carried on maneuverable bodyguard satellites. However, experts and former officials interviewed by Breaking Defense say it probably does not involve a ground-based kinetic interceptor, a capability the US already demonstrated in the 2008 Burnt Frost satellite shoot-down.

Requests for comment to the offices of Hyten, Haines, and SPACECOM were not returned by deadline.

Many military space leaders believe that Space Force and Space Command must publicly demonstrate to Moscow and Beijing not just an ability to take out any space-based counterspace systems they may be developing or deploying, but also to attack the satellites they, like the US, rely upon for communications, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

Notably, the second-in-command of the Space Force recently foreshadowed movement in the long-running debate about declassification of all things related to national security space — a multifaceted and complex debate which has pitted advocates against upholders of the traditional culture of secrecy within DoD and the Intelligence Community.

“It is absolutely a true problem,” Gen. DT Thompson, deputy Space Force commander, responded to a question about over-classification during a July 28 Mitchell Institute event. “I wish we owned our own destiny in that regard, but we don’t — it’s part of a broader activity and we just have to work through that. What I will say is, I think we’re on the verge of a couple of significant steps.”

The Transparency Dilemma

In fact, Thompson’s comments represented only one of several comments, quietly dropped in speeches or interviews, from top military space officials pushing for declassification of high-end systems, following several years of a steadily intensifying drumbeat on the issue. A who’s-who list of top officers, DoD civilian leaders, and key members of Congress have for years been arguing that over-classification is harming the ability to convey the growing threat of foreign counterspace to lawmakers, the public and allied/partner nations — as well as the ability to cooperate with industry and foreign partners to mitigate those threats…………………

The central dilemma isn’t hard to understand, but the devil is in the details of solving it…………………… more


August 21, 2021 - Posted by | space travel, USA, weapons and war

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