The implications of employing the Nudol missile to shoot down an old satellite

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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.‬

The implications of employing the Nudol missile to shoot down an old satellite

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.‬

The implications of employing the Nudol missile to shoot down an old satellite

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.‬

The implications of employing the Nudol missile to shoot down an old satellite

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

Al Jundi

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