US Space Command Says Russian Test of Anti-Satellite Weapon a Threat

By Faye Higbee

Haven’t heard a lot about Russia lately in the midst of lockdowns, elections, challenges, rallies and riots? Here’s something for you: a Russian test of a kinetic anti-satellite weapon that could destroy a satellite in low earth orbit. The Russian test has occurred multiple times. US Space Command issued a statement.

The Russian test of anti-satellite weapons:

Two different types of weapons have been tested: the ASAT (co-orbital space launched) and the DA-ASAT (ground launched).

Russia has conducted a test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile.

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander.

“Russia’s persistent testing of these systems demonstrates threats to U.S. and allied space systems are rapidly advancing. The establishment of U.S. Space Command as the nation’s unified combatant command for space and U.S. Space Force as the primary branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that presents space combat and combat support capabilities to U.S. Space Command could not have been timelier. We stand ready and committed to deter aggression and defend our Nation and our allies from hostile acts in space.”

The United States is concerned by Russia’s continued development and deployment of several types of ground-based and space-based ASAT weapons. These actions are contrary to Russia’s diplomatic and public stance against the weaponization of space. Specifically, Russia has demonstrated two completely different types of space weapons.

The first type of kinetic weapon is a DA-ASAT system capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit, which they have tested multiple times. If this weapon is tested on an actual satellite or used operationally, it will cause a large debris field that could endanger commercial satellites and irrevocably pollute the space domain.

The second type is a co-orbital ASAT, a space-based weapon system, which demonstrated an on-orbit kinetic weapon in 2017 and again in 2020. Furthermore, in March 2018, President Putin announced the development of a ground-based laser system for use by the Russian Space Forces, which the Russian military acknowledged as a “combat laser system.” This pattern of behavior would be considered potentially threatening in any other domain.

Russia has made space a warfighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites,” Dickinson added. “This fact is inconsistent with Moscow’s public claims that Russia seeks to prevent conflict in space. Space is critical to all nations. It is a shared interest to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment… 

US Space Command statement

DA-ASAT weapons are ground launched (DA stands for direct ascent). A similar weapon was launched in April of 2020. At the time, Space officials noted that two Russian satellites were “stalking” a US spy satellite. The Nudol launch in April was not a “contact” test, in other words, it didn’t actually do anything at the time, so left no debris field. Russia has tested its Nudol system at least 10 times since 2018.

Experts say it’s not clear whether the weapon is actually operational based on the Russian test in April, but with every test, their knowledge and ability grows. Some experts believe that Russia will never use the capability at all. While we can hope that’s the case, it’s a good thing we now have the US Space Force.

“Our adversaries have made space a war-fighting domain, and we have to adapt our national security organizations, policies, strategies, doctrine, security classification frameworks and capabilities for this new strategic environment. Over the last year we have established the necessary organizations to ensure we can deter hostilities, demonstrate responsible behaviors, defeat aggression and protect the interests of the United States and our allies.”

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller (C4ISRNET)
Screenshot of a demonstration of the Aegis missile Defense system

*****

Featured photo: Screenshot – “The U.S. Space Command reports that Russia tested a space-based anti-satellite weapon in orbit on Dec. 16, 2020. This image shows the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, the site of another Russian anti-satellite missile test in April 2020.” (Original image from Roscosmos)

Sign up for our Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children newsletter and check out our shop while you’re there! Our website link has been censored on Facebook and Instagram, so be sure to visit us on the web or Twitter, Parler, and Me We for our op-eds on the news. Our new Instagram account is here.