Concern about Russia wanting to put anti-satellite nuke in space raises key questions


(WASHINGTON) — New reporting about intelligence related to Russia wanting to put a nuclear weapon into space, possibly to use against satellites, raises key questions about the country’s intentions and the potential ramifications of an orbital detonation.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 — signed by Russia, the U.S. and numerous other countries — technically still bans putting any weapons of mass destruction in outer space, including nuclear arms.

One question appears to be what Russia might be considering deploying that falls short of that ban.

At the same time, Russia has broken from other nuclear agreements: Russian President Vladimir Putin said early last year that the country was suspending its participation in the New START treaty, first signed in 2010 and extended in 2021, which implements caps on the number of nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the U.S. and inspections of nuclear sites.

Russia, along with the U.S. and China, has also used missiles to destroy its own satellites before. The U.S. did so in 2008, with a ship-based interceptor missile, and Russia did it in 2021 to take out an aging satellite.

Space experts warn against using missiles to take out satellites because it creates voluminous debris in space that could hurt other key vessels like weather satellites and satellites powering communication networks.

But there’s another worry: Could a nuclear effect be triggered to paralyze a constellation of satellites, such as communications satellites?

“These systemic threats … merit further consideration,” notes one assessment from the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies, which warned of digital vulnerabilities as well: “Cyberattacks against a constellation’s control systems or nuclear detonations in space could disable many satellites at once.”

The CSIS assessment noted, too, that a “growing density of space debris” was “an additional cause for concern, and one that is increasingly difficult to mitigate.”

Both the White House and lawmakers on Wednesday sought to allay public concerns about the intelligence regarding Russia — which first became public after House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner warned of a “national security threat” related to a “destabilizing foreign military capability.”

“We are going to work together to address this matter, as we do all sensitive matters that are classified,” House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.

“But we just want to assure everyone steady hands are at the wheel,” he said.

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