It was a technological tour-de-force of the Ronald Reagan Administration when it was tested back in 1985, but did you know that the anti-satellite missile or ASAT is now 30 years old?
By: Ringo Bones
Back in 1985, a heavily modified F-15 Strike Eagle capable of reaching over 100,000 feet successfully tested the ASM-135 anti-satellite (ASAT) missile. It managed to destroy a P78-1 Solar Observatory Satellite in a 345-mile (555-Km.) orbit through sheer kinetic energy strike. The F-15 was piloted by US Air Forge Major Wilbert D. “Dough” Pearson. The successful test of this Reagan Administration era technological tour-de-force inspired the techno-thriller author Tom Clancy to write Red Storm Rising which featured a similar anti-satellite weapons system. Thanks to the popularity of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising that through the rest of the 1980s, many Tom Clancy fans in America and the rest of the world got the perception that the U.S. Air Force pilot that tested the ASAT was a woman – in the name of Major Amelia “Buns” Nakamura – as opposed to USAF Major Pearson.
Even though the program was officially terminated in 1988, it took more than 20 years for another country beside the United States to successfully test an anti-satellite or ASAT weapons system. Back in 2007, Mainland China managed to develop a comparable high-altitude plane launched anti-satellite weapons system by successfully downing one of its retired satellites in orbit around the Earth. During Operation Desert Storm, there were concerns by the pentagon that Saddam Hussein could use a modified Scud missile capable of downing several of the United States’ Department of Defense’s Global Positioning System satellites that could jeopardize the accuracy of hand-held GPS units used by American forces poised to liberate Kuwait after the January 17, 1991 deadline. Given that so far, Mainland China is the only military power that had developed its own ASAT weapons system, is the technology behind how it works still out of reach of other world military powers?