Russia is conducting another test of an anti-satellite weapon, which could threaten American military systems in orbit, U.S. Space Command announced Thursday.
The weapon is a highly-maneuverable satellite similar to one launched in April, the command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, said in a news release.
"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," Space Command’s Gen. Jay Raymond said in an email.
The National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base tracks what Russia and other nations are doing in orbit, but America’s ability to track the space activity of potential enemies is seldom discussed. Space Command under Raymond, though, has issued public announcements on the past two Russian anti-satellite tests as part of a governmentwide effort to call attention to the Putin regime’s apparent push to challenge America’s military dominance in space.
“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,” the command said. “According to the Department of State, this behavior is hypocritical and concerning.”
Russia and China have made strides in recent years in their ability to target American satellites and similar efforts are underway in smaller states including Iran. The flurry of efforts to counter America’s military satellites comes after rivals spent years watching how the U.S. military can leverage the capabilities of satellites to win battles on the ground and in the air.
Defense Department satellites controlled from Colorado Springs include the Global Positioning System along with spacecraft for communications and reconnaissance missions like missile warning.
The devices allow troops on the ground to track and target enemies with precision and also allow for the operation of game-changing weapons from GPS-guided bombs to Predator drones. The military’s reliance on space led to the creation of U.S. Space Command, which oversees the efforts of military branches in orbit and the December stand-up of the Space Force, a separate service branch for satellite troops.
“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,” Raymond said.
The goal of Raymond and his Space Command troops is preventing wars from reaching space rather than doing battle in orbit. Most space weapons, including one notoriously tested by China in 2007, create vast clouds of debris in orbit that threaten all satellites.
The new command has moved swiftly to sign up allies to create a coalition that can give other nations reason to rethink any plan they may have to start a war in space. Space Command this month cemented its alliance with Portugal, the 117th nation or organization to agree to share satellite tracking data with the command.
"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 said.