Russia’s New Space Weapon: Are We on the Brink of Star Wars?

Marko Aliaksandr /
Marko Aliaksandr /

The US has determined that Russia likely launched a counter-space weapon last week, placing it dangerously close to a US government satellite. US Ambassador Robert Wood shared this troubling revelation at the UN on Monday. This isn’t Russia’s first rodeo with counter-space weapons—designed to knock out or destroy satellites—but it’s their first launch since 2022, according to Wood, who represents the US in Special Political Affairs at the UN.

This latest launch is raising alarms among the US and its allies, who are increasingly concerned about Russia’s ambitions to create a nuclear space weapon capable of obliterating both commercial and government satellites. On May 16, Russia launched a satellite into low Earth orbit, which the US believes to be a counter-space weapon, poised to attack other satellites in its vicinity.

Wood pointed out that this launch follows previous Russian counter-space system launches in 2019 and 2022. He emphasized that Russia’s actions undermine its claims of seeking outer space security. Despite Russia issuing Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for the launch and the re-entry of a space launch booster, these actions have done little to alleviate concerns.

The US and its allies are on high alert, working tirelessly to deter Russia from developing nuclear space weapons. The potential threat is enormous: such a weapon could destroy satellites by generating a massive energy wave, crippling the infrastructure we rely on for communication, financial transactions, and internet access.

In an attempt to curb this threat, the US and Japan introduced a UN Security Council resolution in April, urging member states to refrain from developing space-based nuclear weapons. Predictably, Russia vetoed this resolution, which the US saw as confirmation of Russia’s dangerous ambitions.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan underscored that Russia’s development of a satellite carrying a nuclear device contradicts its public declarations of peaceful intentions in space. If Russia had no plans for space-based atomic weapons, it wouldn’t have blocked the resolution.

The Biden administration has been transparent that while Russia’s nuclear satellite is still under development and not yet operational, its potential deployment would mark a dangerous escalation in nuclear arms history.

In a defensive maneuver, Russia recently proposed its resolution to ban all space-based weapons, which the US vetoed. Ambassador Wood criticized Russia’s proposal, stating that it failed to reaffirm the obligations of the Outer Space Treaty and was merely a distraction from Russia’s true intentions.

This cat-and-mouse game in space is far from over. Still, one thing is clear: the US and its allies must remain vigilant and united against any threats to global security posed by rogue actions in outer space.