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Although there are several possible benign explanations for the image -- such as a barely perceptable jiggle of the camera as it took the time exposure
One potential method might be a powerfull ground-based laser (why was the infrared sensor on one of our satellites suddenly blinded as it passed over the USSR?) A laser on the Mir space station recently "illuminated" an ICBM during the cruise phase of its flight in space, demonstrating Soviet ability to detect and track a missile, according t o Pentagon sources (Washington Inquirer , July 24, 1987).
The purpose of Mir may indeed include bringing about "peace" -- Soviet style,
implies absence of opposition.
The Soviets are also developing an airborne laser. Assuming a successful development effort, limited initial deployment could begin in the early l990s. Such a laser platform could have missions including antisatellite operations, protection of high-value airborne assets, and cruise missile defense.
The Soviets are working on technologies or have specific weapons-related programs underway for more advanced antisatellite systems. These include space-based kinetic energy, ground- and space-based laser, particle beam, and radio frequency weapons. The Soviets apparently believe that these techniques offer greater promise for future antisatellite application than continued development of ground-based orbital interceptors equipped with conventional warheads. The Soviets also believe that military applications of directed energy technologies hold promise of overcoming weaknesses in their conventional air and missile defenses.
The USSR's high-energy laser program, which dates from the mid-1960s, is much larger than the US effort. They have built over a half dozen major R&D facilities and test ranges, and they have over 10,000 scientists and engineers associated with laser development. They are developing chemical lasers and have continued to work on other high-energy lasers having potential weapons applications - the gas dynamic laser and the electric discharge laser. They are also pursuing related laser weapon technologies, such as efficient electrical power sources, and are pursuing capabilities to produce high-quality optical components. They have developed a rocket-driven magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator which produces 15 megawatts of short-term electric power - a device that has no counterpart in the West. The scope of the USSR's military capabilities would depend on its success in developing advanced weapons, including laser weapons for ballistic missile defense.
The Soviets have now progressed beyond technology research, in some cases to the development of prototype laser weapons. They already have ground-based lasers that could be used to interfere with US satellites. In the late 1980s, they could have prototype space based laser weapons for use against satellites. In addition, ongoing Soviet programs have progressed to the point where they could include construction of ground-based laser antisatellite(ASAT) facilities at operational sites. These could be available by the end of the 1980s and would greatly increase the Soviets' laser ASAT capability beyond that currently at their test site at Sary Shagan. They may deploy operational systems of space-based lasers for antisatellite purposes in the l990s, if their technology developments prove successful, and they can be expected to pursue development of space-based laser systems for ballistic missile defense for possible deployment after the year 2000.
In 1976, a KH-11 or Code 1010 satellite was "painted" by a Soviet laser
and sustained "permanent damage," according to a senior Air Force official.
This source said that such paintings continued into the late 1980s.