There’s an ongoing ‘arms race’ in space as Russia, China and the United States develop satellites that can counter one another.
While space-to-space weapons have been in development for decades, most famously with the Soviets’ Almaz space stations, Russia and China have recently showcased their capabilities in targeting US satellites.
On Monday, Russia launched a missile into space and destroyed one of its own satellites in a “show of force,” according to AFP.
“It demonstrates that Russia is now developing new weapons systems that can shoot down satellites,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
This threat of satellite warfare – in addition to China’s hypersonic missile program – prompted then-President Trump to establish the U.S. Space Force as a branch of the Armed Forces in 2019.
“Both Russia and China have developed ‘space stalker’ satellites that can be manipulated to physically interfere with others, according to Brian Chow, an independent space policy analyst who spent 25 years at the Rand Corp think tank,” reported AFP. “With robotic arms, ‘they can just stalk the opponent satellite and move it somewhere else, or bend an antenna’ to render it useless, said Chow.”
These techniques were developed partially in response to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which forbade countries from placing “nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit.”
More recently, in August, China tested the limits of the treaty by launching a a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which reportedly flew in low-orbit space before cruising down to its target.
The test caught the US military by surprise.