Congress Reveals Russia’s Possible Nuclear ASAT Plans

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Congress was thrown into a frenzy yesterday amid reports that Russia is working on a space-based nuclear capability that could target satellites in LEO.

The chain of events: Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, released a statement Wednesday demanding that President Joe Biden immediately declassify all information on a “serious national security threat” related to a “destabilizing foreign military capability.” ABC News first reported the details:

  • The threat: Russia
  • The capability: Nuclear space-based anti-satellite (ASAT) tech—possibly a weapon or nuclear-powered device

Turner said he had made information on the threat available to members of Congress, but declassifying the information would allow for more open discussions with allies. 

Arming space: Concerns that the nuclear threat may someday reach the space domain have persisted for decades. This worry was a primary reason for the 1967 Outer Space Treaty—of which Russia is a signatory—which makes clear that putting nuclear weapons in space or on any other celestial body is very much against the rules.

Russia is one of four nations (including the US, China, and India) that have demonstrated direct-ascent ASAT capabilities, most recently with a widely-denounced test in November 2021 that destroyed an old Soviet satellite and left a debris field in LEO. It’s also done its fair share of satellite jamming, particularly since beginning its invasion of Ukraine.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the latest threat “significant” but “not a cause for panic,” per ABC.

What’s next: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Wednesday he had offered earlier in the week to brief the Gang of Eight—GOP and Democratic Congressional leaders plus top lawmakers on the Senate and House intelligence panels—and will brief the four House members in the group on Thursday. 

“All I can say is I’ve reached out to see Turner. Turner has gone out publicly. I’m going to go see Turner tomorrow. That’s where I want to leave things for today,” Sullivan said, while also highlighting steps Biden has taken more broadly to declassify intelligence. 

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