U.S. and NATO military intelligence agencies have recently identified a “mysterious” Russian missile they believe is designed to take out allied communications and targeting satellites during a conflict.
The missile was spotted underneath a MiG-31 interceptor, and it’s estimated to be a mock-up version that could be ready to deploy by 2022, three sources told CNBC.
The news site noted further:
The Russian anti-satellite weapon, which is attached to a space launch vehicle, is expected to target communication and imagery satellites in low Earth orbit, according to one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. For reference, the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope travel in low Earth orbit.
Images of the mysterious missile on a modified Russian MiG-31, a supersonic near-space interceptor, appeared in mid-September.
Testing of the missile mock-up began in September and was expected to be completed by Wednesday, the sources said.
The “captive carry tests” are aimed at evaluating the missile in flight, one course told CNBC.
“These are the types of tests you do first in order to gain confidence that the weapon and airframe are going to work together during flight,” the source explained.
The next testing milestone is scheduled for sometime next year.
“My take is, as I understand it, it is possible that this is an anti-satellite system,” said Pavel Podvig, director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project. He said Moscow has previously worked on such systems. “It seems like a capability that would be sort of nice for them to have.”
Analysis: As Podvig noted, the U.S. and China already have anti-satellite capabilities. The most high-profile anti-satellite test, in fact, was undertaken by Beijing when its military destroyed an old satellite in 2007, according to reports at the time.
In fact, The New York Times reported that the U.S. and the former Soviet Union had developed the capability decades earlier, with the last U.S. test being conducted in the 1980s, shortly before the USSR collapsed. The report said both nations had demonstrated the capability to destroy “spacecraft.”
So, if the Soviets had a demonstrated anti-satellite capability, what’s different about the latest Russian missile? Faster? More accurate? Longer range? Better targeting system?
Maybe all of the above. But obviously, it’s not a capability that isn’t shared by the other great powers.
Now, how practical is having an anti-satellite capability? It would certainly come in handy in wartime, obviously, but any use of such weapons would most assuredly result in satellite counterstrikes. In the end, both nations’ militaries would be partially or fully blinded and there would be a massive amount of new space debris forever encircling earth — endangering space launches and remaining systems like the International Space Station and other countries’ satellites.
Right now, NASA tracks about 500,000 pieces of debris, all of which travel at speeds nearing 17,500 miles per hour. Just a small piece of debris can significantly damage the ISS or existing satellites.
So is an anti-satellite capability much like having a nuclear weapons capability — vital as a means of defense but mostly necessary as a deterrent? Probably.
It’s hard to imagine a power physically destroying dozens of satellites because the resulting debris would be detrimental to its own space-based capabilities now and in the future. China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 added an additional 3,000 pieces of space debris alone.
A more potent and practical anti-satellite capability is laser technology, which could theoretically ‘take out’ a satellite without physically destroying it and creating thousands more pieces of space junk. The U.S. has been working on this capability at least since 2006. Russia and China are, as well.
All of which makes the creation of the U.S. Space Force necessary, say its backers.