US Officials Allege Russia Deployed Anti-Satellite Weapon in Space

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
May 22, 2024World News
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US Officials Allege Russia Deployed Anti-Satellite Weapon in Space
A Soyuz rocket carrying a batch of 34 OneWeb satellites blasts off from a launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 7, 2020. (Russian State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS/Handout via Reuters)

U.S. military and diplomatic officials claimed this week that Russia has likely launched a new “counter-space weapon” that could threaten satellite networks.

Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. alternate representative for special political affairs in the United Nations, first alluded to the suspected Russian space weapon launch in remarks at the U.N. Security Council on Monday, ahead of a vote on a Russian-drafted resolution to ban weapons of any kind in space.

Mr. Wood noted Russia had vetoed an earlier proposal before the Security Council to ban the development of nuclear weapons intended for placement in Earth’s orbit, and said this new Russian proposal was prepared in “a hasty process that did not take into account legitimate, repeated, and shared concerns by a majority of this Council.”

Mr. Wood referenced the suspected Russian space launch in his remarks urging other Security Council members to vote against the Russian proposal.

“Just last week, on May 16, Russia launched a satellite into low Earth orbit that the United States assesses 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 U.S. government satellite,” Mr. Wood said. “Russia’s May 16 launch follows prior Russian satellite launches likely of counter-space systems to low Earth orbit in 2019 and 2022.”

Algeria, China, Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone voted with the Russian Federation in favor of their proposal. France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States voted against the proposal, and the council’s 15th member, Switzerland, abstained from voting.

Pentagon press secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder reaffirmed the U.S. concerns about the May 16 Russian space launch while addressing reporters during a press briefing on Tuesday.

“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,” Maj. Gen. Ryder said. “Russia deployed this new counter-space weapon into the same orbit as a U.S. 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.”

Maj. Gen. Ryder said the United States has a responsibility to defend “protect and defend” the space domain. “We’ll continue to balance the need to protect our interests in space with our desire to preserve a stable and sustainable space environment.”

Suspected Space Weapon

The term “counter-space weapon” can encompass a variety of capabilities, from missiles and other kinetic systems designed to physically destroy satellites, and grappling devices used to grab and drag satellites out of their orbit, to laser dazzlers intended to blind space-based optical sensors used for surveillance.

Beyond describing the orbit path of the newly launched Russian satellite, Maj. Gen. Ryder offered few additional details on how the U.S. government believes the Russian satellite could attack or disrupt other satellites in orbit.

The U.S. government has raised concerns in recent years about what Russia claims are “inspector” craft, which can deploy from their satellites and approach other objects in space. U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) stated that the suspected Russian space launch on May 16 was carrying one of these inspector satellites.

NTD News reached out to U.S. SPACECOM for further details about this claim but did not receive a response by publication time.

Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said in a social media post shortly after midnight local time on May 17 that one of its latest space launches entailed a launch vehicle carrying an unspecified “spacecraft” on board.

‘Fake News’

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the U.S. government of spreading false claims about the May 16 Russian satellite launch.

“I don’t think that we should respond to any fake news injected by Washington,” Mr. Ryabkov told the Russian state-sponsored TASS news agency on Tuesday, following Maj. Gen. Ryder’s remarks.

Mr. Ryabkov said Russia has consistently opposed placing attack weapons in low-Earth orbit. He told TASS that Russia has launched a variety of satellites, including those intended to strengthen Russian defense capabilities, and insisted that this fact is not newsworthy.

“That is why, the Americans can say whatever they like and our policy will not change from that,” Mr. Ryabkov added.

The Russian official said that if the United States were truly interested in preserving security in the space domain, it would reconsider its opposition to Russia’s recent proposal against the deployment of any weapons in space.

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