The United States will test an anti-satellite weapon in space this month, the Defense Department announced today just hours after Moscow said it will feel free to deploy such a weapon in space if Washington goes ahead with its plans.
The terse Pentagon announcement did not give a specific date for the test--the first against an object in space.
Pentagon spokesman Fred Hoffman said the target will be a “used up” satellite because of continuing technical problems with an instrumentation package that was to have been the target.
President Reagan certified to Congress on Aug. 20 that a test of the weapon is necessary and would be held after a mandatory 15-day waiting period, which expires at midnight tonight.
Reagan said the test “is necessary to avert clear and irrevocable harm to the national security” and “constitutes an incentive for the Soviet Union to reach an agreement on these and other issues.”
In its warning to Washington, Moscow said through its official Tass press agency that “if the United States holds tests of anti-satellite weapons against a target in outer space, the Soviet Union will consider itself free of its unilateral commitment not to place anti-satellite weapons in space.”
The Soviets have developed an anti-satellite weapon placed atop a booster rocket that is considered by U.S. defense officials to be cruder than the weapon being tested by the United States. The U.S. weapon is a two-stage rocket fired from the underbelly of an F-15 fighter.
Moscow declared a unilateral moratorium on testing and deployment of anti-satellite weapons two years ago and asked the United States to comply. The United States refused, arguing it was necessary to develop an anti-satellite capability at least similar to the Soviets’.
Two tests of the U.S. anti-satellite weapon have been carried out, but neither was directed against a target in space.