Laser Show; January 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Dupont; 1 Page(s)
In early October U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced he would allow the army to fire a massive laser beam at an aging air force tracking satellite 260 miles above the earth. The Pentagon emphasized the defensive nature of the test by stating that the main goal was to gather data about the vulnerability of U.S. satellites to laser attacks.
Few were convinced. For years the army believed its Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico had the potential to disable satellites, but a congressional ban kept the service from testing the hypothesis. After a Republican-led Congress let the ban drop, however, the army proposed a test of MIRACL¿s ability to "negate satellites harmful to U.S. forces." Only after extensive press coverage and congressional criticism did the Pentagon announce the emphasis of the test had shifted from antisatellite (ASAT) experimentation to the assessment of the vulnerability of the air force target satellite, which had been selected because it could report back on any damage from the laser. After several mishaps, the army fired at the target satellite in late October; problems with both the laser and the satellite, however, kept the Defense Department from attaining much data.