Russia launched counter-space weapon capable of attacking U.S. satellites in orbit, Pentagon says

Russia launched counter-space weapon capable of attacking U.S. satellites in orbit, Pentagon says

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Russia recently launched a counter-space weapon capable of attacking U.S. satellites in low Earth orbit, Defense Department officials said Tuesday, and they stressed that the American military is “ready to protect and defend the domain” of space if necessary.

Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Russia launched the weapon on May 16. He said the weapon is similar to other counter-space payloads that Russia launched in 2019 and 2022.

Washington fears the Kremlin might consider putting a nuclear weapon into space, which is shaping up to be a battleground in 21st-century conflicts.

“What I’m tracking here is on May 16 … Russia launched a satellite into low Earth orbit that we assess is likely a counter-space weapon presumably capable of attacking other satellites in low Earth orbit,” Gen. Ryder said.

“Russia deployed this new counter-space weapon into the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite,” he said. “And so, assessments further indicate characteristics resembling previously deployed counter-space payloads from 2019 and 2022.

“Certainly, we would say that we have a responsibility to be ready to protect and defend the domain, the space domain, and ensure continuous and uninterrupted support to the Joint and Combined Force,” Gen. Ryder said. “And we’ll continue to balance the need to protect our interests in space with our desire to preserve a stable and sustainable space environment.”

Asked specifically whether the Russian counter-space weapon could threaten the nearby U.S. satellite, Gen. Ryder indicated it does.

“Well, it’s a counter-space weapon in the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite,” he said.

Robert Wood, the State Department’s alternate representative for special political affairs, announced the Russian launch Monday at the United Nations. He spoke just before a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution drafted by Russia that called for a permanent ban on the placement or use of weapons in space. Seven members voted in favor of the resolution, seven voted against, and one nation abstained, according to media reports.

Mr. Wood called the resolution “disingenuous.”

“Colleagues, we are here today because Russia seeks to distract global attention from its development of a new satellite carrying a nuclear device,” he said.

Last month, Russia vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution designed to prevent an arms race in outer space. The failure of both countries’ resolutions underscores the difficulty of finding international agreement on the issue of weapons in space.

The most recent launch wasn’t entirely unexpected. Citing unidentified U.S. officials, CNN reported Tuesday that the U.S. had been expecting the launch for several weeks and that military officials tracked it as it happened.

Russia has been making advances on the space-based weapons fronts for years. In 2021, Russia conducted a “hit-to-kill” test that destroyed one of its own satellites, creating what the Pentagon described as “more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris.”

Key U.S. policymakers say they are deeply concerned that Russia could go further and place a nuclear-armed weapon into space.

“We need to make sure that satellite does not go up,” Rep. Michael Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an exclusive Threat Status Influencers interview. “The moment that Russia decides to put a nuclear weapon in space, we are going to have to change every system that we have in place. We have to assume that from that day forward, all of [our systems] can be turned off in an instant.”  » …
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