Pentagon Satellite Shoot-Down Could Spark Concern

The Pentagon's latest plan to shoot down a dead spy satellite is likely to stir up a fair amount of international controversy.

+ More

The Pentagon's latest plan to shoot down a dead spy satellite is likely to stir up a fair amount of international controversy.

The highly classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite failed soon after its 2006 launch and is set to re-enter Earth's atmosphere in early March. But rather than rely on the likelihood it would burn up during re-entry, the Pentagon is now planning to destroy it with a specially designed missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship, according to the Associated Press.

Such an operation, however, bears a striking similarity to a Chinese operation to destroy an aging weather satellite with a missile in January 2007. At the time, U.S. officials vigorously condemned the Chinese strike as a destabilizing antisatellite-weapons test. In particular, they were worried that China was aiming to threaten the U.S. military's dependence on satellites for everything from communications to reconnaissance.

U.S. officials also protested the Chinese test because it generated an astonishing amount of space debris when the satellite shattered into thousands of pieces that continue to threaten other satellites in orbit.

The United States has tested its own antisatellite weapons before, most recently in 1985. But it is unclear what steps the Pentagon will take to minimize any new debris. Officials are expected to release more details before any strike, which would occur in the coming weeks.

Previously, U.S. officials had suggested they would allow the dead satellite to fall to Earth. But there were concerns that some of its highly classified technology could survive re-entry and end up in the wrong hands.

—Kevin Whitelaw