Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Lawmaker presses Pentagon official on Russia’s potential space nuke

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May16,2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence reports on Russia’s development of a space-based nuclear weapon were a key point of discussion at a congressional hearing May 1. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb faced questioning from lawmakers about the weapon’s capabilities and potential impact.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, Plumb said the administration remains highly concerned about reports that Russia is developing an anti-satellite capability that could be a nuclear device. And he stressed the need for further modeling and studies to understand the weapon’s potential impact in orbit.

Many of the questions were raised by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The news that Russia might be developing a space-based nuclear weapon came to light in February after Turner warned about a potential threat and urged the Biden administration to disclose details about the alleged weapon. 

The White House said that, while concerning, this capability is reportedly still under development and not ready for immediate deployment. The administration noted that deployment would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty’s ban on nuclear weapons in Earth’s orbit.

Turner pressed Plumb to provide details on what type of weapon Russia is developing and where in space it might be deployed.

Plumb declined to elaborate on the weapon’s launch readiness, suggesting these details be addressed in a classified session.

‘Threat to all satellites’

According to Plumb’s statement to the committee read by Turner, “This capability could pose a threat to all satellites operated by countries and companies around the globe, as well as to the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial, and national security services we all depend upon.”

Upon further questioning by Turner, Plumb suggested that if detonated, a nuclear, anti-satellite weapon could render low Earth orbit unusable for a long time, perhaps a year.

“It is not an imminent threat in a way that we should have to worry about right now,” Plumb said. “But we are concerned about it, the department and the entire administration and I know this Congress is taking this deadly seriously.”

Plumb criticized Russia’s recent veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution that reaffirmed provisions in the Outer Space Treaty prohibiting the placement of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Russia plans to deploy nuclear weapons in space but Plumb said the UN veto suggests otherwise. “We just had a United Nations Security Council resolution that Russia vetoed, which may in fact tip their hand on this,” he said.

Plumb said modeling and simulations are needed “to know the specifics of how this thing would be used, what type of detonation it might be, where it might be detonated  and how that changes the outcome.”

The devastation would be felt in low Earth orbit where most satellites aren’t hardened against nuclear radiation and would be rendered unusable “for some period of time … It could be a year,” said Plumb. 

Estimates of the impact of a nuclear detonation are based on what unfolded after the U.S. in 1962 conducted a high-altitude nuclear test called Starfish Prime which increased the charged-particle radiation in near-Earth space to values easily 10 million times the natural radiation level. 

“The fact that Russia vetoed the resolution reaffirming a commitment they’ve already made is concerning,” Plumb said.

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 “Lawmaker presses Pentagon official on Russia’s potential space nuke”
  1. As a concerned citizen, I find the idea of Russia developing a space-based nuclear weapon deeply troubling. It is crucial for the administration to prioritize understanding and addressing this potential threat to ensure the safety and security of space operations.

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