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Inside the Ring: Counter-space battle craft

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Gen. Mark A. Welsh III (Associated Press)

The head of the Air Force Space Command recently made cryptic comments about some aspects of one of the military’s most cutting edge and secret weapons, the X-37 space plane.

Air Force Gen. William L. Shelton, who heads the Air Force’s space operations, said during a March 26 breakfast meeting with defense writers that the X-37, currently on orbit, is performing its mission.

“It is doing very well on orbit, and we don’t have an exact re-entry date for it. But it’s had a successful mission, and we are very happy with the performance,” he said.

Asked what the space plane was doing well, the four-star general declined to specify.

Gen. Shelton said there are no plans at the present to increase the number of spacecraft from the current two, and he also defended the secrecy of the program’s budget.

“If you reveal budgets, you reveal sometimes the capabilities, the amount of technology that’s inserted into a program,” he said. “I think in this case, it’s just a good strategic national security decision. Like we do other things of that ilk. Keep that budget to ourselves.”

Pressed for details on the secret craft, Gen. Shelton said only that the system is “game-changing,” often a reference to strategic capabilities that can make a difference between winning and losing in a conflict.

A defense official said the X-37 is a key element of the Pentagon’s new Air Sea Battle Concept to closely link Air Force and Navy capabilities for defeating China’s advanced military systems such as anti-satellite weapons, anti-ship ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare capabilities.

In a future conflict with China, the X-37 is slated to play a key role in knocking out Chinese space sensors that would provide key targeting data for the DF-21D anti-ship missile.

Pentagon officials, however, refuse to say publicly that the X-37 is part of future space warfare systems and insist it is a test bed for research.

Chinese military writers have said the X-37 is part of secret U.S. plans for space warfare against China.

CIA ON NORTH KOREA

A CIA report on North Korea’s arms proliferation activities reveals that Pyongyang remains a major source of arms to the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

“North Korea is among the world’s leading suppliers of ballistic missiles and related technology,” the annual report to Congress says.

“Over the years, [North Korea] has exported ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, technical expertise, and/or full missile systems.”

The rogue state’s relationships with Iran and Syria remain strong, and intelligence agencies assess that North Korea is seeking new customers and re-engaging with previous customers, the report says. The report notes North Korean assistance to Syria’s covert nuclear program that began in the late 1990s and says Pyongyang “retains the potential for exporting nuclear materials and technology.”

On North Korea’s missile program, the report says Pyongyang is developing missiles of “increasing range and sophistication.”

The report was sent to Congress in February but received little notice as it was posted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

North Korea continues to make preparations for what the Pentagon is calling a missile launch of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile.

The report states that North Korea has not launched the Taepodong-2 “space launch vehicle or any other longer range space or missile systems” since July 2009.

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About the Author

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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