On November 15, 2021, Russia tested a Nudol anti-satellite missile, with which it shot down the Soviet satellite “Kosmos-1408” The object has been in orbit since 1982 and is inactive.” The Russian experiment provoked angry Western reactions, especially from the United States, which considered the experiment a serious threat to the peaceful uses of outer space.
Multiple Russian Messages
It is noted that the recent Russian experience had its military and strategic implications, which can be explained as follows:
1- The first experiment of its kind: It is noted that the United States had previously accused Russia of conducting a missile test from outer space, as the US Space Command confirmed, in July 2020, that it had evidence proving that the Russian satellite “Kosmos 2543” had launched a type of missile into orbit. And that this represents the use of an anti-satellite weapon.
Despite this previous experience, Russia’s launch of the Nudol missile from the Earth, and its use in shooting down an old satellite, represents the first test by Russia, according to US estimates. It is noted that this experience reflects the development of Russia’s strategic air defense systems, and confirms what Moscow previously indicated that the S-550 mobile air defense system is capable of shooting down satellites.
The Russian state news agency TASS confirmed that the first batch of “S-550” air defense systems had entered combat service, and described the new system as a new, unparalleled mobile system for strategic missile defense, and that it had the capability to strike spacecraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and supersonic targets at altitudes of up to tens of thousands of kilometers.
2- Interception of the US unmanned spacecraft: A source in the Russian military-industrial complex confirmed that the new Russian “S-550” anti-aircraft system is capable of shooting down the US unmanned spacecraft “X-37B”, which Moscow suspects that it could be used to deploy weapons in space.
Russia announced, according to an official source from the Russian military-industrial complex, that the new “S-550” anti-aircraft system is capable of shooting down the US military spacecraft “X-37B”, an unmanned spacecraft believed to be a secret US weapon. That was after the recent Russian missile test and Washington’s condemnation of it, which confirms the existence of a link between the latest Russian space experiment and the new “S-550” system.
3- Confirmation of superiority over American air defense systems: The S-550 mobile strategic missile defense system specializes in destroying ballistic and orbital space targets, primarily in destroying nuclear warheads of intercontinental missiles, and thus it will be the first mobile system in the world capable of destroying missiles effectively, which means that Russia continues to assert its superiority in developing more advanced air defense systems than its American counterpart.
4- Neutralizing American space superiority: The United States believes that Russian military doctrine considers space to be critical to modern warfare, and that Moscow views anti-satellite weapons as a way to reduce American military effectiveness to win future wars, a spokesman of the US Space Command.
It is noted that trying to avoid Russian missile targeting by an American satellite will be very difficult, as the time taken by the Russian Nudol missile, from the moment of its launch, until hitting the Russian satellite ranged between 5 and 10 minutes only, which will be difficult for The United States to confront, as the American military will need time to be able to determine that there is a hostile missile launch targeting one of its satellites, as well as to communicate with the target satellite, and operate it to move to a different orbit, which means imposing more threats on the satellites which The United States fully depend on to direct and manage its modern battles.
5- Strengthening the Russian position in the geostrategic conflict over Ukraine: There is no doubt that the Russian space experiment came at a time of increasing tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine, especially after US intelligence announced in early December 2021 that the Kremlin was planning a multi-front attack on Ukraine as soon as possible from in 2022, up to 175,000 soldiers will participate, after the publication of satellite images showing newly arrived units at various locations along the Ukrainian border last November.
There is no doubt that Moscow’s disclosure of this experience at this time bears great significance, as on the one hand it confirms the Russian capabilities, which Moscow had previously announced with regard to developing air defense systems capable of shooting down satellites, and even lends credibility to the rest of the capabilities announced by Moscow. These systems are represented by their ability to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On the other hand, in the event of a conflict between Moscow and the West over Ukraine, the United States will stand unable to adopt any military measures against Moscow, especially since the latter can easily target all American satellites, according to the worst scenario. Such experiment means that the Western military superiority over Moscow is receding, which means that trying to reach understandings with Moscow on Ukraine and responding to some of its demands about avoiding the deployment of NATO weapons there, may be more useful than escalating tension and conflict over Ukraine.
6- Pre-empting efforts to control conflict in outer space: It should be noted that the international efforts conflicts in outer space, encountered obstacles in one way or another. In the past, Russia and China submitted proposals to control armaments in outer space, but the United States objected to them, given that they represent a limitation on some elements of its progress and strength in this field, specifically limiting the space elements of the US missile defense system.
In 2008, Russia and China also proposed a draft treaty on the prohibition of the deployment of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against objects in outer space, which needs ratification by 20 countries, including five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The draft was also rejected by the United States, which saw it as lacking verification tools and failed to include ground-based anti-satellite weapons. Subsequently, Russia, China and the United States also proved reluctant to adhere to a compromise proposal by the European Union on the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which would ban signatories from destroying satellites.
Russia realizes that in the context of the growing competition between great powers, especially between the United States and China, the increasing tendency of the militarization of space is the future of war. At the same time, this may push Western countries to seek the issuance of international agreements that limit the development and use of these capabilities. The test coincided with the creation of the United Nations Task Force on Code of Conduct in Outer Space. Russia was one of only eight countries that opposed the establishment of that group, fearing that the work of this group would result in reaching a binding agreement to limit the use of weapons in outer space.
Showcasing Russia’s military capabilities before new international regulations are set, could be beneficial to Russia’s national security, since by destroying its satellite in space, Russia achieved two goals. It confirmed its defensive and deterrent capabilities, especially in the field of targeting satellites in outer space, before it was banned or severely restricted by future international agreements. In addition, Russia has ensured that it will be an important and insurmountable party in any organized international effort to legalize these space capabilities.
It is noted that NATO, in a statement issued on November 19, strongly criticized the Russian experiment, as it opens the door to the militarization of space. The alliance’s issuance of such a statement four days later reveals that NATO conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the Russian experiment, and made sure of its success.
The alliance also called on Moscow to join international efforts aimed at developing rules and principles of responsible behavior in order to reduce space threats, and to refrain from conducting dangerous and irresponsible destructive tests, which is an indication that Moscow has possessed capabilities of concern to the West in this field, and therefore NATO seeks to curb Russian progress by inviting Moscow to join efforts to legalize the use of weapons in outer space.
Critical Western stances:
The United States and European countries tended to severely criticize the Russian stances, and sought to justify their attack on Moscow on the basis of the following claims:
1- Threat of the Russian experiment to space activities: The United States confirmed that the experiment generated a “cloud” of pieces of debris that could threaten the safety of the International Space Station crew, and that it poses a threat to many satellites. US space agency, NASA, said that the seven astronauts on the station board had to resort to their docked vehicles in preparation for the possibility of an emergency evacuation. For his part, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that pieces of debris “will threaten now and for decades” space activities, stressing that his country will “work” with its allies to respond to this “irresponsible act.” Russia denied these accusations, which it described as “malicious,” stressing that “the United States is certain that these pieces of debris will not pose any danger.”
2- Developing American Space Capabilities: Brian Ingberg, Director of the Space Control Technology Branch at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, emphasized that “our current priorities are to develop defensive measures for satellites, and flexibility that makes them able to avoid any attacks, that is, to provide satellites with the capability to avoid weapons such as those tested by Russia on November 15, so that US Space Force satellites can continue to “provide critical space services such as communications, navigation, operational awareness, and information dominance, which then provide powerful offensive and defensive advantages for our ground forces on land, sea, and air.”
The United States is currently seeking research to make satellites capable of employing artificial intelligence and machine learning “to be able to detect any potential attacks and make decisions on protecting their own capability, when it is not possible to wait for someone on the ground to receive the data, make a decision, and send a command to the satellite to move far away to avoid a potential threat.”
In conclusion, it can be said that the return of conflict between major powers, specifically the United States and Russia, was followed by indications of the start of an arms race in outer space between these powers, especially in the absence of any binding international agreements to control such a conflict, which means that the major powers, especially Russia, the United States and China, have two options, which are either to continue the arms race, or to try to reach binding rules governing their military interactions in outer space.
« By: Shady Abdel Wahab