The Guardian (London)

July 19, 2001

SECTION: Guardian Foreign Pages, Pg. 19

LENGTH: 502 words

HEADLINE: Bush plans to test space-based laser weapons

BYLINE: Richard Norton-Taylor

The Bush administration is planning to test a space-based missile defence system - the first step towards "weaponising" space - as early as 2005, according to a senior US defence official.

Robert Snyder, executive director of the Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation, said Dollars 110m had been included in the US defence budget to study technologies aimed at hitting missiles in their "boost" phase three to five minutes after launch.

Under the plan, space-based lasers would be mounted on satellites. Mr Snyder said the test planned for 2005 or 2006 would probably involve launching a prototype laser into space and then firing it back at a target in the earth's atmosphere, the Washington Post reported.

"It's not clear we know how we're going to do that," Mr Snyder said at a conference in Alabama sponsored by the US army space and missile defence command.

The test suggests the Bush administration plans to dust off the technology behind President Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars", which was abandoned after the US and Soviet Union agreed missile reductions.

Menwith Hill in Yorkshire and other US bases in Britain could play a role in a new space-based weapons system.

The plan is one reason why the US Pentagon wants to abandon the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, according to a report by the London-based International Security Information Service (Isis).

The treaty prohibits the deployment of weapons in outer space, blocking the implementation of an emergent US military doctrine called "space control", it says.

It says US analysts are warning that since the American economy and military is highly dependent on space satellites for telecommunications and surveillance, the country is vulnerable to a "space Pearl Harbour". This was the conclusion of a report by a commission led by the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Another official planning document, Vision for 2020, published by the US space command, foresees "space-based strike weapons" as part of "global engagement capabilities". US pursuit of such weapons is imperative, according to space command officials, because "space superiority is emerging as an essential element of battlefield success and future warfare".

The Isis report says: "Far from being an irrelevant 'cold war relic', the ABM treaty is perhaps the most relevant post-cold war check there is against space weaponisation."

"ABM treaty breakout, conducted under the guise of missile defence, functions as a tripwire for unilateral US military domination of the heavens."

Ballistic missile interceptors based in space with the ability to knock out enemy missiles in mid-flight could also be used as orbiting "death stars" capable of sending munitions hurtling through the earth's atmosphere, it says.

Isis points out that in November more than 150 countries, including Britain, voted for a UN resolution for the "prevention of an arms race in outer space". The US abstained.

LOAD-DATE: July 19, 2001