The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Russia Is a Serious Threat in Space, But There’s No Need to Panic

We learned recently that the United States has intelligence suggesting that Russia is considering a new anti-satellite weapon of some kind. With U.S. officials providing few confirmed details, many have assumed the worst. But we should all take a step back and breathe. The theories emerging in public tend to fall into two camps: either it is a nuclear weapon in space or a nuclear-powered electronic warfare satellite. If it is a space-based nuclear weapon, this would neither be a new capability nor particularly useful to Russia. On the other hand, if it is a nuclear-powered electronic warfare satellite, that is a more concerning development.

Let’s start by reviewing what we know about this intelligence, which is not much. In a press briefing on February 16, 2024, White House National Security Communications Advisor, John Kirby, confirmed a few things: Russia is developing a new anti-satellite capability, the capability is not deployed and there is no immediate threat, and the weapon can neither attack humans nor cause physical destruction on Earth.

The other key piece of information Kirby provided is that whatever it is would violate the Outer Space Treaty (OST), a 1967 multilateral treaty that is still the basis for space policy today. The OST does not limit much in terms of military capabilities in space, but it does explicitly prohibit the placement of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in orbit, though this does not include nuclear-powered spacecraft.

If Russia is developing a space-based nuclear weapon intended to harm other satellites, this is not a new idea or capability. We have long understood that high altitude nuclear events threaten space systems, demonstrated by United States and Soviet Union nuclear weapons testing in the early 1960s. A nuclear detonation in space produces both an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can instantly fry the electronics on nearby satellites and a radiation belt that would be global and damage satellites over the weeks and months that follow.

Read more at National Interest

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.