China, India space arms race challenges US dominance: US daily

June 25th, 2008 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 25 (IANS) India and China have hastened an arms race in space challenging American dominance in the field, the Washington Times has suggested. “On the planet’s final frontier, more and more countries are beefing up their border guards,” it said noting: “India became the latest country to boost its defence presence in space, announcing last week plans to develop a military space programme to counter the fast-growing space defence efforts of neighbouring China.”

“I don’t think what you are seeing is coincidental,” it cited Wade Boese, a researcher at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, as saying Wednesday. “Countries are increasingly aware of the potential for military development in space, and increasingly aware that other countries are moving ahead.”

The issue of an arms race in space took on new prominence in January 2007 when China stunned Western military analysts by using a medium-range ballistic missile to shoot down a defunct weather satellite.

The conservative daily cited Pentagon planners as saying two orbiting US spacecraft were forced to change course to avoid being hit by the thousands of pieces of space debris caused by the surprise test. China insists the exercise was not conducted for military reasons.

But in what many around the world saw as at least in part a return salvo to the Chinese action, the US Navy in February shot down a wayward US spy satellite over the Pacific, arguing that the action was needed to prevent the craft from crashing to Earth and spreading potentially toxic fuel, it said.

“India, which competes for influence with China even as trade relations between the two Asian giants have blossomed, made no effort to hide its concerns about Beijing’s plans for space.”

Although the US holds a vast technological and spending edge in space defence programmes, the military’s reliance on satellites and space-based assets exposes the US more than any other country to military threats in space.

The daily cited Nancy Gallagher and John D. Steinbruner, researchers at the University of Maryland’s Centre for International Studies, as arguing in a study that the Pentagon cannot hope to dominate space through technological and material superiority.

The US will not be able to “outspend and out-innovate all potential rivals in space,” the two argue in a “white paper” just published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Aides to rival presidential candidates Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain are staking out markedly different stands on the space arms race as the presidential campaign heats up.

“We don’t need more battlegrounds,” Steve Robinson, an Obama campaign adviser, said in a debate at the National Space Society’s annual meeting in May in Washington.

“The idea of militarisation of space is not something that Obama is in favour of, and cooperation is better than confrontation.”

Floyd DesChamps, a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee staffer representing McCain, said he recognizes the need to defend US space assets from hostile attack. “The reality is that we have to protect those assets,” he said.

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