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Russia Continues Its Hostile Space Weapons Program

Launch of an anti-satellite system in low-Earth-orbit puts US satellites at risk.

According to Pentagon reports released this month, Russia recently launched a weapon capable of destroying or disabling satellites because it is located in low-Earth orbit, where US satellites reside. The precise function of the Russian space weapon is unknown, but some analysts suspect the spacecraft’s purpose is to move close to other satellites and conduct detailed inspections. The nearness also would allow the Russian satellite to tamper with solar panels or antennae.

Russia Weaponizing Space

While the Biden administration is in denial about the need to develop an effective US anti-satellite system, Russia, China, and others are not so naïve. Despite its protestations to the contrary earlier this month, Russia put into space what US intelligence experts consider to be an anti-satellite device that is maneuverable and able to come close to other countries’ space-based systems. Recently, Reuters reported, “US intelligence agencies had been expecting the launch of COSMOS 2576 and informed allies of their assessment of the satellite before its deployment in space, according to a US official familiar with the intelligence.”

During a briefing, the Defense Department spokesman, Major General Patrick Ryder, added some perspective to what the Pentagon was thinking regarding Russia’s weaponizing of space. Ryder said:

Russia launched a satellite into low Earth orbit that we – that we assess is likely a counter-space weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low-Earth orbit. Russia deployed this new counter-space weapon into the same orbit as a US government satellite. And so, assessments further indicate characteristics resembling previously deployed counter-space payloads from 2019 and 2022. And so, you know, obviously that’s something that we’ll continue to monitor.”

When asked whether the US considered Moscow’s latest satellite launch a threat to America’s satellites, Ryder, without hesitation, answered “yes.” The ability of the Russian satellites to maneuver in a low-Earth orbit, coming close enough to any one of the numerous US military surveillance systems to cause damage, reduce its effectiveness, or destroy it should be concerning.

In the meantime, the Kremlin is disputing that the Soyuz rocket launched from Plesetsk was carrying an anti-satellite capability. Moscow persistently and adamantly maintains that it complies with international laws pertaining to space. “A top Russian official on Wednesday denied US claims that Moscow had launched a weapon into low-Earth orbit that could potentially attack other satellites, calling it ‘fake news,'” The Hill reported.

But the Russian government has been known for its mendacity more often than not. The problem with Moscow claiming it’s not using space for military purposes is that the US has excellent space surveillance systems that can determine the purpose of Russian satellites. In a November 2021 press release, Space Force commander, US Army General James Dickinson, explained:

“Russia is developing and deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies and partners. Russia’s tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to pursue counterspace weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations.”

The direct-ascent anti-satellite missile or rocket is launched from the ground and strikes the target satellite or explodes in close proximity to it. This is the anti-satellite capability the Biden administration determined the US should no longer test because of the resulting space debris. Space debris will be the least of the US national security problems if Russia or China can disable or destroy all or most of America’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) satellite sensor and communications capability on day one of a conflict.

Moscow Developing Nuclear Anti-Satellite Systems

Russia’s weaponization of space is not limited to conventional means, either. In a February 2024 White House briefing, the national security spokesman explained, “[P]reviously classified information on the Russian nuclear [anti-satellite] development program was made public by Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH) chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,” according to a Liberty Nation report. A single nuclear detonation from a warhead in orbit over the US could easily disable entire constellations of ISR, communications, and navigation satellites. With the US military’s dependence on satellite communications and GPS for positioning, US national security would be in grave peril.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliate.

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