Is Russia Weaponizing Space? A Situational Assessment

On 13 Feb, GOP Rep. Mike Turner briefed Congress on a confidential national security issue, sparking concern. Turner urged President Biden to declassify the issue, emphasizing the importance of transparent discussions among allies regarding the threat. Subsequently, ABC News broke the story that the threat pertained to Russia’s general interest in expanding influence in space, specifically Russia’s purported plans to deploy nuclear weapons in space. According to these sources, the intended targets of these space-based nuclear arms would be satellites rather than terrestrial locations. US officials suggest Russia’s new weapons cast doubt on its commitment to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty against orbital nuclear arms. Space nukes have the potential to create a huge electromagnetic pulse if deployed and could destroy satellites and electronic systems.

Key Judgment 1. Russia is likely exploring strategies to integrate nuclear weapons into space operations, possibly to implement during Ukraine-related military operations in the next 6 months.

Key Judgment 2. U.S. officials will likely declassify intelligence on space-based nuclear threats in the near term to inform allies and develop countermeasures.

Key Judgment 3. Likely, Russia’s space-based nuclear capabilities are still in the developmental phase, providing an opportunity for NATO and other intelligence agencies to monitor and prepare responses in the next 6 months.

Transport and Energy Modules (TEM), a Russian term for electric space tugs where a nuclear reactor powers an electric propulsion system to transport them to their operational orbits and subsequently provide energy/power to their on-board systems.
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