Washington: Russian nuclear anti-satellite system is 'troubling'

White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby
White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby Copyright Andrew Harnik/AP
Copyright Andrew Harnik/AP
By Euronews with AP
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US National Security Communications Spokesperson John Kirby told journalists the new Russian system was not operational.

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The US has gathered highly sensitive information about Russian anti-satellite weapons that has been shared in recent weeks with the upper echelons of government, according to four anonymous sources who were briefed on the information. 

The intelligence sparked an urgent but vague warning on Wednesday from the Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee, who urged the Biden administration to declassify information about what he called a serious national security threat.

Catching the White House off-guard

Representative Mike Turner gave no details about the nature of the threat, and the Biden administration also declined to address it. But several leading lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, cautioned against being overly alarming.

A congressional aide said he understood that the threat relates to a space-deployed Russian anti-satellite weapon. Such a weapon could pose a major danger to US satellites that transmit billions of bytes of data each hour.

The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said it was not yet clear if the Russian weapon has nuclear capabilities, but said, that is the fear.

The White House and lawmakers expressed frustration at how Turner raised his concerns. His announcement appeared to catch the Biden administration off-guard.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House that he already had been due to brief Turner and other senior congressional leaders on Thursday. Sullivan did not disclose the topic or provide any other details related to Turner’s statement.

“I’m focused on going to see him, sit with him as well as the other House members of the Gang of Eight, tomorrow,” Sullivan said. “And I’m not in a position to say anything further from this podium at this time.”

He acknowledged it was not standard practice to offer such a briefing.

Return of the Space Race?

The rapidly evolving threat in space was one of the primary reasons why the US Space Force was established in 2019. Back then the concerns had to do with new capabilities that China and Russia had already developed that could interfere with critical satellite-based US communications, such as GPS and the ability to detect missile launches quickly.

In recent years Washington has seen both Beijing and Moscow pursue new ways to jam satellites, intercept their feeds, blind them, shoot them down, and even potentially grab them with a robotic arm to pull them out of their programmed orbits. One of the key missions of the Space Force is to train troops skilled in detecting and defending against those threats.

In its 2020 Defence Space Strategy, the Pentagon said China and Russia presented the greatest strategic threat in space due to their aggressive development of counter space abilities, and their military doctrine calling for extending conflict to space.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described the claims about a new Russian military capability as a ruse intended to make the US Congress support aid for Ukraine.

“It’s obvious that Washington is trying to force Congress to vote on the aid bill by hook or by crook,” Peskov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies, “let’s see what ruse the White House will use” he reported added.

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