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Pentagon said to lack understanding of satellite's vulnerability to attack

The Associated Press January 5, 2000, Wednesday,

The Pentagon needs to investigate more fully how an adversary could disrupt U.S. military operations with low-power attacks on U.S. satellites, the commander of U.S. Space Command said Wednesday.

"We should understand our vulnerabilities," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers told reporters.

One means of doing that, Myers said, is by using U.S. lasers in test firings on orbiting U.S. satellites. The Pentagon conducted such a "laser dazzler" test against one of its satellites in October 1997 using an Army laser.

The laser beam used in that test did not destroy or damage the satellite's infrared camera, which was the target. The intent of such laser strikes is to temporarily "blind" the camera with a burst of light.

Critics called the experiment a mistake by giving other nations the impression that the United States is moving toward offensive use of lasers in space - a step the Pentagon is not ready to make.

Among them is John Pike, a representative of the military weapons watchdog group Federation of American Scientists. He said such high-tech military testing will encourage other nations to develop anti-satellite weapons.

"We live in a glass house," Pike said. "We should not be organizing rock-throwing contests."

Myers said more tests like the one in 1997 would help the Pentagon gauge the vulnerability of its satellites.

The laser beam used in that test did not destroy or damage the satellite's infrared camera, which was the target. The intent of such laser strikes is to temporarily "blind" the camera with a burst of light.

"This is a program that needs to be developed and fleshed out," he said.

It was not clear from Myers' statements whether new testing is immiment. Pike said he hoped that wasn't the case.

"I can only hope those were the comments of a space commander and that he will not be taking them with him to the Pentagon," said Pike.

The U.S. military increasingly is dependent on satellites in both peacetime and in war.

Myers, who will leave his post at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., next month to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 1, said other countries are developing "laser dazzlers" that could interfere with U.S. satellites. He would not identify these countries, but China is known to be developing such a weapon.

At a Pentagon news conference, Myers said Space Command's operations were not affected by any Y2K-related computer problems. He declined to discuss a breakdown on New Year's Eve of a ground station that processes data from intelligence satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. That system was knocked out for several hours by a Y2K glitch and not fully restored until Monday morning.