COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. In separate presentations here Thursday (April 12), U.S. Strategic Command Commander Gen. James Cartwright and National Reconnaissance Office Director Donald Kerr cautioned against reading too much into the Jan. 11 test by China of an antisatellite weapon.
Their statements came a day after U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley likened the impact of the China test to Russia's 1957 launch of Sputnik.
Cartwright, a Marine general heading an Air Force command responsible for space and strategic weapons, asked: "Was this event a watershed? Not in my mind. This is not the defining moment in US-China relations."
Gen. Cartwright pointed out that China's use of a mobile launcher to hit an aging weather satellite was not dissimilar to ASAT tests conducted by the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Let's give the Chinese credit for trying to move forward and bring these attributes to their nation," he said, adding that the Jan. 11 test was a wakeup call for the United States to improve its intelligence and response capabilities.
However, it was not an excuse for reassessing U.S.-China relations, he said, and was not a clarion call for an arms race in space.
Donald Kerr, director of the NRO since 2005, similarly was circumspect in remarks following his speech. He said that the destruction of the weather satellite undoubtedly increased the debris field in space, requiring more evasive maneuvers for satellites in low-earth orbit.
Kerr added that the Chinese test added to a significant amount of space debris from other nations, and "the China test may have added a few percent to the total."
Kerr said he knew of no direct impact on NRO satellites due to increased space debris.