MOSCOW - Russia hopes U.S. President Barack Obama will not pursue his predecessor's plan to deploy weapons in space but Moscow is ready to respond appropriately to any such moves, a senior Russian general said on Wednesday.
Russia, negotiating with the United States a new treaty to curb nuclear arms to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) expiring in December, has argued against the weaponization of space.
President Dmitry Medvedev, due to receive Obama next month on his first visit to Moscow, has said Russia's conditions for new nuclear arms accords include banning arms in space.
As far as I know, today's U.S. administration has somewhat different plans -- they have become more down-to-earth and more realistic, one of Russia's deputy defense ministers Vladimir Popovkin, in charge of weapons, told a news conference.
He said Russia could find a cheap way of dealing with any potential U.S. space defense system.
There is a more adequate response, and for this there is no need to put weapons in space, he said. It is not a big deal to shoot down a space satellite, and the Chinese have proven this by conducting a relevant experiment.
Popovkin recalled how then U.S. President Ronald Reagan's attempts to create a space-based anti-missile system had accelerated the Cold War arms race and helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union.
We were dragged into this escapade called 'Star Wars' under (U.S. President Ronald) Reagan, and you know well what the result was -- this was one of the causes behind the collapse of the Soviet Union. We squandered a huge amount of money, he said.
Former President George W. Bush ordered the Pentagon to start researching new anti-missile systems four years ago as a guard against a launch from North Korea or Iran.
Congress agreed a $5 million study of a possible space-based missile defense last October, a potential baby step toward a Star Wars system. The U.S. has spent more than $100 billion developing anti-missile systems on land, at sea, and in the air.
Russia believes the United States is concerned primarily about the safety of its orbital group of satellites which are vital for coordinating U.S. troops deployed around the globe and in leading wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Popovkin said.
The deputy defense minister also said that Russia expected to successfully finish testing of its much-delayed Bulava strategic nuclear missile this year and make the first flight of its new fifth-generation fighter jet.
The task is this year we must complete all flight tests of Bulava including from aboard the Yury Dolgoruky (nuclear submarine), Popovkin said.
As for the fifth-generation aircraft, it is set to take off this year and we have no reason to postpone this deadline. Its engine will be 4+++ but the plane itself and many of its key elements will be definitely fifth generation.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)