WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the United States is prepared to share with China some of the information it has about the U.S. shootdown of a spy satellite.
His comments came hours after Beijing complained the missile strike Wednesday could cause harm to security in outer space and some countries.
'We provided a lot of information ... before it took place,' Gates told reporters during a visit to Hawaii. But, the secretary also said that he is determined to be open about the U.S. operation and 'we are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can.'
Debris from the obliterated satellite was being tracked over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans but appeared to be too small to cause damage on Earth, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said earlier Thursday.
He told a Pentagon news conference that officials have a 'high degree of confidence' that the missile launched from a Navy cruiser hit exactly where intended - destroying the toxic fuel tank that officials said could kill if it fell to a populated area on Earth.
It was an unprecedented mission for the Navy, so extraordinary that the final go-ahead to launch the missile Wednesday was reserved for Gates rather than a military commander.
The elaborate intercept plan had worried some international leaders, who suggested it was a thinly disguised attempt to test an anti-satellite weapon - one that could take out other nations' orbiting communications and spy spacecraft.
Within hours of the reported hit, China said it was on the alert for possible harmful fallout from the shootdown and urged Washington to promptly release data on the action.
'China is continuously following closely the possible harm caused by the U.S. action to outer space security and relevant countries,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at news conference in Beijing. 'China requests the U.S. to fulfill its international obligations in real earnest and provide to the international community necessary information and relevant data in a timely and prompt way so that relevant countries can take precautions.'
Cartwright estimated there was an 80 to 90 percent chance that the missile struck the most important target on the satellite - its fuel tank, containing 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, which Pentagon officials say could have posed a health hazard to humans if it had landed in a populated area.
Alluding to a video clip of the missile smashing into the satellite, which he showed at the news conference, Cartwright said, 'We have a fireball, and given that there's no fuel (on the tip of the missile), that would indicate that that's a hydrazine fire.'