Sunday 16 May 2021 | 06:57 | SYDNEY
Sunday 16 May 2021 | 06:57 | SYDNEY

Email of the day: Anti-satellite weapons


Sam Roggeveen


21 February 2008 10:09

Edward Walker has this response to my thoughts on the US attempt to shoot down a failing spy satellite. My reply follows:

I disagree with your assessment of North Korea's nuclear program, and their ability to use nuclear weapons in a ballistic missile attack on Japan. It seems logical to me that the North Koreans have not yet developed a weaponised fission device; that the test device they exploded was more like 'The Gadget' detonated at the Trinity Test Site. After all, it is a lot easier to develop a fission device if there are no constraints on its size, on how aerodynamic it is, and so forth.

I also think that various commentators have missed the point regarding the significance of using the SM-3 in an ASAT role. To me it appears as though it is being used as the first tactical 'surface-to-space' missile. This could be a big development in terms of the direction of future wars; i.e. space truly becoming part of the same battlespace as the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. The SM-3 in an ASAT role would allow for a lot more flexibility than the ballistic missile set-up the Chinese used. AEGIS platforms can be moved into position, and can respond quickly in a crisis, meaning that it would have significant capabilities as an ASAT warfighter in any potential future conflict (obviously with China). The downside being that the SM-3 only appears to have the capability to engage LEO satellites.

On North Korea's nuclear capabilities, my most trusted source would be David Albright and his staff at the Institute for Science and International Security. Albright says in this report that North Korea is probably able to make a nuclear warhead for its Nodong missile. And although Edward might be right that the SM-3 opens up new tactical possibilities for the US military, that could come at the expense of US strategic interests. Given the dangers that orbiting debris from ASAT operations poses to all kinds of space activity, the US might have far more to lose by engaging in an ASAT arms race than it would gain from winning it.