Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Defense space policy chief calls Russia’s space nuke threat “a thing apart”

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May11,2024

WASHINGTON — John Plumb, the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said the Pentagon views Russia’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon for use in space as a deeply troubling threat, one that stands apart from other feared “counterspace” weapons being developed by Moscow, Beijing and others.

In an interview with SpaceNews, Plumb said the United States has spent decades developing strategies to deal with anticipated anti-satellite weapons. But Russia’s development of what U.S. intelligence believes to be a space-based nuclear weapon amounts to “a thing apart” that must be dealt with differently because of its indiscriminate effects if it were ever deployed. 

“The weaker a state is in its conventional military force, the more it will rely on nuclear weapons,” Plumb said of Russia’s motivations, even though its president has denied it is pursuing space-based nuclear arms.

“Russia is exhausting a lot of their conventional force on the Ukrainian front,” Plumb added, so here it is again playing the nuclear card.

While lacking the ability to deploy satellites as extensively as the United States and China, Russia could use such an orbiting nuclear weapon to cripple America’s satellite networks. “It’s egregious,” Plumb said.

More analysis needed

While the United States conducted the high-altitude Starfish Prime nuclear test in 1962, spawning intense radiation effects in space, Plumb said the current threat requires new analysis because that test happened “a very long time ago, when there were only a small number of satellites in space.”

He said hardening all U.S. satellites against such radiation would be unrealistic and prohibitively expensive. Instead, the Pentagon and other government agencies should do further studies and modeling of the potential impact of a nuclear detonation in orbit, and develop options to increase the resilience of military systems.

With the State Department taking the lead on future talks with Moscow, Plumb said the U.S. goal is to “convince not just Russia, but all nations that it is a terrible idea” — even as the military must brace for all scenarios, however awful.

DoD’s greater focus on space

Plumb, who is stepping down later this month, is the first Senate-confirmed assistant secretary for space policy at the Defense Department, a new post Congress established in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. 

As he leaves office, Plumb recalled that at the time his position was created, the Pentagon underestimated the importance of having a dedicated space policy office. When the Ukraine conflict broke out, space was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight because of the pivotal role played by SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network in providing communications in Ukraine and the intelligence value of commercial imaging satellites to U.S. allies.

That is when it became very obvious that DoD needed someone to oversee space issues, Plumb said. “Before that, many in the department had not understood how important that would be.”

He pointed out DoD’s growing reliance on satellite networks for communications, navigation, intelligence and other vital functions — as well as the accelerating threats to those capabilities from nations like Russia and China. Having a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary, Plumb said, puts needed emphasis on the space domain as a priority alongside the traditional realms of air, land, sea and cyber operations.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Defense space policy chief calls Russia’s space nuke threat “a thing apart””
  1. Does this mean that the current strategies in place are not sufficient to address the unique threat posed by Russia’s space-based nuclear weapon? Is there a need for updated defense policies or actions to counter this specific threat effectively?

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