U.S. Space Command has reported that Russia has just conducted an anti-satellite test in space on July 15. Russia and China have both been pursuing technology capable of jamming or destroying U.S. military and commercial satellites. A report published on February 13, 2018, “Threat Assessment” by Daniel R. Coats, Director of National Intelligence, warned of the destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and that they would reach operational capability sometime in 2020. The U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office writes (abridged):
U.S. Space Command has evidence that Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon. On July 15, Russia injected a new object into orbit from Cosmos 2543, currently Satellite Catalog Number 45915 in Space-Track.org.
Russia released this object in proximity to another Russian satellite, which is similar to on-orbit activity conducted by Russia in 2017, and inconsistent with the system’s stated mission as an inspector satellite. Tracking information can be found on Space-Track.org.
“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Commander of U.S. Space Command and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations. “This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”
The U.S. State Department raised concerns in 2018, and again this year, that Russian satellite behaviors were inconsistent with their stated mission and that these satellites displayed characteristics of a space-based weapon. According to the Department of State, this behavior is hypocritical and concerning.
“This event highlights Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control, with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counterspace program — both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry,” said Dr. Christopher Ford, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State currently performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Last week’s test is another example that the threats to U.S. and Allied space systems are real, serious and increasing. Russia’s development and testing of orbital weapons highlights the importance of establishing the U.S. Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces and the U.S. Space Command as the nation’s unified combatant command for space. It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment.
“The United States, in coordination with our allies, is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and vital U.S. interests from hostile acts in space,” Raymond concluded.
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