Network-Centric Warfare: Space Style
In mid-February an SM-3 missile from the cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG-70) hit a large U.S. reconnaissance satellite that was falling out of control and would have re-entered the atmosphere within a few weeks. The missile took three minutes to hit the satellite, which was at an altitude of about 130 miles. That is twice the altitude at which SM-3s are designed to intercept ballistic missiles, but it is far lower than the satellite the Chinese destroyed last year, and far lower than the orbit of reconnaissance satellites. The U.S. satellite had already decayed well out of its intended orbit. Even so, hostile commentators in Russia described the shot as a covert test of an anti-satellite system. The Chinese saw hypocrisy: Americans condemned the Chinese test, but then conducted their own. They carefully avoided marked differences. Quite aside from any strategic or political implications, the Chinese test created debris at an altitude through which many satellites, particularly military ones, pass. The debris from the much lower-altitude U.S. test will almost certainly re-enter the atmosphere and simply burn up. It is unlikely to threaten anyone else's satellites.