The push to declassify an existing space weapon is being spearheaded by Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
By THERESA HITCHENS on August 20, 2021
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.
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.