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SEPTEMBER 2020

US Space Force Claims Russia Testing Anti-Satellite Weapons Systems

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US Space Force Claims Russia Testing Anti-Satellite Weapons Systems

The US is concerned its reconnaissance satellites, among others, may be vulnerable to attack

Last week, the head of the newest branch of the US military complex, the Space Force, claimed that Moscow has undertaken at least two anti-satellite weapon tests in recent months, in a potential bid to develop on-orbit efficiency that could threaten the viability of many elements of the US military apparatus in a conflict situation given its heavy dependency on space-based systems.

The US Space Force statement claimed that Russia launched a new object from a satellite that is already in orbit and expressed concern as to its possible purpose and capabilities:

“On July 15, Russia injected a new object into orbit from Cosmos 2543. Russia released this object in proximity to another Russian satellite, (which was) inconsistent with the system’s stated mission as an inspector satellite.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry dismissed the allegation.

General John Raymond, commander of US Space Command, further stated that the Russian satellite system used to conduct the alleged on-orbit weapons test is the same one that the US military raised concerns about earlier this year when it manoeuvred near a US government satellite.

“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 the U.S. and allied space assets at risk,” Raymond continued.

The concern that these satellites are part of a space-based anti-satellite weapon system stems in part from the fact that the craft involved – Cosmos 2542 – had moved into a position to shadow a US KH-11 spy satellite, publicly identified only as USA 245, in January, according to an analysis by The Drive’s War Zone. LINK

A month earlier, the USA 245 satellite was forced to alter its own orbit to avoid a collision with the satellite Cosmos 2543, which the US Space Force believes was also trailing the US spy satellite. In April this year, US Space Force officials also expressed concern that the Kremlin had conducted testing of an unspecified “direct-ascent anti-satellite missile,” also known as a DS-ASAT, from its Plesetsk base in northern Russia.

While no targets were destroyed in either the April or July experiments, the possibility that Russia is improving its anti-satellite capabilities has many US military experts extremely concerned.

Miguel Miranda, an Asia-based arms and security expert, told Fox News. “This is a serious capability because the U.S. military’s biggest advantage over its rivals is an immense command and control plus intelligence and surveillance network orbiting our planet. Without it, the U.S. military suffers and struggles to fulfill its mission.”

Eugene Gholz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, elaborated on the stakes involved.

“The capability to weaken U.S. military satellite constellations would inhibit the U.S. military’s ability to project power far from the U.S. homeland — that is, space is an essential part of the U.S. military’s infrastructure for operations against countries like Russia, China and Iran. The United States uses space-based intelligence gathering to understand threats to the U.S. homeland (for defense), but the U.S. also uses a lot of space-based capability to enable the U.S. military to go attack other countries.”

Moscow describes Cosmos 2543 as a “space apparatus inspector,” which does nothing more than observe and examine damage to other equipment on-orbit. Yet given its small stature and mobility, some Western military experts suspect it could also double as spycraft or be used to destroy other critical space apparatuses in a number of ways – including launching projectiles, which the US Space Force is accusing its Russian counterparts of testing in recent months.

“Details remain vague on this ‘inspector satellite,’ but the main concern is it’s able to launch small payloads toward another orbiting vehicle,” Miranda said. “Going by that alone, it does seem to have an offensive role, and this is what the U.S. military is concerned about.”

Harry Kazianis, a senior director at the Center for the National Interest, observed that: “Both sides are gearing up for a future where the killing of satellites would be a key capability in a war or conflict. The goal is simple: if your opponent is blinded, he can’t attack you. Having weapons that can kill satellites that would direct precision attacks, find potential threats, and even wage a nuclear war are clearly a game-changer.”

Washington and Moscow have agreed to hold their first discussions on the militarization of space in Vienna this week. However, other countries with substantial capabilities to conduct military-related activities in space, such as China, have not been included in the scheduled dialogue.

Experts warn that the domain of aerospace warfare could quickly emerge as the prominent battlefield for a substantial conflict in the not-so-distant future. The topic is especially crucial for the United States, which depends upon space systems for everything from navigation and weapons guidance to intelligence collection, communications, data sharing and storage, and advanced attack warnings. LINK

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