A US official warned this week that Russia’s recent efforts toward space weaponry are both “disturbing” and “abnormal,” according to Reuters. The US state department is particularly concerned over a new Russian “inspection” satellite, launched last year, which they say is behaving inconsistently with its purported mission.
During discussions aiming to avoid a space-based arms race at the UN Conference on Disarmament, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Yleem D.S. Poblete said that “six new major offensive weapons systems” in development and announced in March, are “yet further proof that the Russian actions do not match their words.”
She added that a “space apparatus inspector” launched by Russia and unveiled last October, is behaving in a way that is inconsistent with inspection satellite activities.
According to Poblete:
“In October of last year the Russian Ministry of Defense deployed a space object they claimed was a ‘space apparatus inspector.’ But its behavior on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities. We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it.”
She noted that such efforts are “disturbing given the recent pattern of Russian malign behavior.”
The expected behavior of an inspection satellite, in maneuvering to take photos of other satellites, would be an easy disguise for an anti-satellite weapon system that could use lasers to interfere with optical sensors, or even cause physical damage. Officials say they have reason to believe that some of the satellites behavior has gone beyond simple inspection.
Senior Russian diplomat Alexander Deyneko claimed, however, that the new US concerns represent “the same unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions, on suppositions and so on.”
A new treaty proposed by the Russians would still allow this kind of activity, according to Poblete, as well as the testing and stockpiling of anti-satellite weapons. Deyneko claims though, that the US has not proposed any actual amendments to the treaty, despite their issues with it.
“We are seeing that the American side are raising their serious concerns about Russia, so you would think they ought to be the first to support the Russian initiative. They should be active in working to develop a treaty that would 100 percent satisfy the security interests of the American people,” says Deyneko.
It is likely that US forces would be highly dependent on satellites for communication in future conflicts, so interference with these systems is considered a high-priority security issue.