The U.S. military's role in deterring attacks on commercial satellites is set to be strengthened in the first broad overhaul of U.S. space policy in a decade, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
The policy would remove any ambiguity about official responsibility for figuring out who was behind any attack on U.S.-owned commercial satellites, said Air Force Col. Anthony Russo, head of the U.S. Strategic Command's space division.
Russo said recent drafts of the policy, which he said could be announced within months, did not rule out weapons in space.
Instead, they speak of taking "all appropriate measures to defend our space assets," he told a reporters at a forum organized by the private Center for Media and Security.
"'All appropriate measures' is a pretty broad statement," Russo said. "It doesn't rule out weapons in space. It doesn't say go build them either."
Currently, no known weapons specifically designed to apply force are stationed in space — an absence that Russia, China and many others strongly support.
Russo described President Bush's emerging national space policy as an "evolution" from the current one, issued in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton.
"The new bit clarifies that (the military's responsibility) extends to commercial assets that are not necessarily providing U.S. government services," he said.
Responding to an attack could fall to U.S. law enforcement, the State Department or another government agency depending on the case, Russo said. Putting the military squarely in the equation should act as a deterrent to those who would interfere with satellites, Russo said, "because right now they can do it and expect to get away with it."
Tens of thousands of incidents involving possible attacks on satellites are reported each year, he said. But only a handful of these turn out to be deliberate efforts to pirate services or interfere for political reasons.
"I see that trend increasing," Russo said, adding that he expected the U.S. military to get more resources to carry out the projected space-mission expansion.
The United States is increasingly dependent on commercial space companies for national security-related work as well as essential telecommunications and financial services.