Pentagon Officials Say Russia Has Launched a Counter Space Weapon into Orbit

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief…  on Tuesday, it was confirmed that a Russian satellite suspected of possessing counter space weapon capabilities was placed into orbit by Russia in near proximity to a U.S. government satellite. In our analysis, we’ll be looking at 1) what U.S. officials have said about the object, which shares characteristics with previously deployed Russian counterspace payloads, 2) why the Pentagon believes this Russian satellite poses a threat to U.S. government satellites, and 3) why the development of Russian anti-satellite and potential nuclear space weapons has raised significant concerns among U.S. defense officials and lawmakers, highlighting the risks of space militarization and the need for international discussions and potential actions to address these threats.

Quote of the Week

“It’s a counterspace weapon in the same orbit as a US government satellite.”

– Pentagon Spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder

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With that all behind us, it’s now time to turn our attention toward revelations from the Pentagon this week about a suspected counter space weapon placed into orbit by Russia.

A Russian Counter space Weapon in Orbit

This week, the Pentagon confirmed that Russia is suspected of having launched a counter space weapon into low Earth orbit.

According to information provided to reporters on Tuesday, Russia launched the device on May 16 into the same low Earth orbit as a U.S. government satellite. Significantly, the characteristics of the satellite launched by Russia resembled those of previously deployed counter space payloads from 2019 and 2022.

Artist’s concept of a Russian anti-satellite weapon (DIA/Public Domain).

According to Pentagon officials, the Russian space weapon is believed to threaten U.S. government satellites and obstruct the U.S.’s efforts to protect the space domain and ensure uninterrupted support for joint and combined forces and their orbital operations.

A Word from the Pentagon

During a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder responded to questions regarding a suspected anti-satellite weapon and the Pentagon’s concerns over its launch.

“On May 16, as you highlight, 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,” Ryder told reporters during the briefing.

2022 Annual Report on UAP

“Russia deployed this new counter space weapon into the same orbit as a US government satellite.” Ryder said, adding, “Obviously, that’s something that we’ll continue to monitor.”

“Certainly, we would say that we have a responsibility to be ready to protect and defend the domain the space domain and ensure continuous and uninterrupted support to the joint and combined force,” Ryder told reporters, “[and] will continue to balance the need to protect our interests in space with our desire to preserve a stable and sustainable space environment.”

Ongoing Concerns

Earlier this month, The Debrief reported that John Plumb, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, informed lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Russia’s suspected development of an anti-satellite nuclear device poses a potential threat to all spacecraft currently in orbit.

During a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, Plumb expressed the Department of Defense’s concern over Russia’s ambitions to “ultimately fly a nuclear weapon in space, which will be an indiscriminate weapon.” He emphasized that, while this threat is not imminent, it has nevertheless captured the attention of Biden administration officials.

Russian nuclear weapon
(DoD/EJ Hershom)

The existence of such Russian space weaponry first came to light in February, when Ohio Representative Mike Turner referred to a mysterious “national security threat” in a posting on X. Turner urged President Biden to declassify all related information so that Congress, the Administration, and allied nations can openly discuss the necessary actions to address this threat.

The Path Forward

The recent revelations highlight the U.S. and other nations’ growing concerns over the militarization of space and the potential for increased tensions between major space-faring nations. For the time being, specific information about the suspected technical capabilities of the Russian counter space weapon remains unclear.

Asked specifically whether the satellite posed risks to current U.S. government operations in orbit, Ryder was quick and to the point, responding only by affirming that U.S. officials believe the Russian device is capable of counter space operations.

“It’s a counter space weapon in the same orbit as a US government satellite,” Ryder said on Tuesday.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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