In Search of a Legal Solution to the Weaponisation of Space: A Russian Perspective

Author: Zvedre, Y. K.
Published in National Security Journal, 09 July 2020

including space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space launch vehicles and satellite navigation constellations. China established a strategic support force to integrate its space, cyberspace and electronic capabilities. The report also noted that Iran and North Korea have demonstrated emerging space capabilities.18

Analysing possible consequences of the formation of the US Space Force, the Russian leadership argued that an evolving armed rivalry in space, along with development of a space-based segment of missile defense, was unlikely to make outer space a less controversial or less dangerous environment and would have a grave destabilising effect on the geopolitical situation. In his remarks at a meeting with the defence officials on December 4, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deep concern that the US considers outer space as a military theatre and that it is accelerating creation of its space forces “for preserving strategic supremacy”. Accordingly, the world’s leading countries are fast-tracking the development of modern military space systems and that Russia needed to do the same.19

In fact, Putin’s comments reiterated those he made a few days earlier after NATO had declared space a fifth “operational domain” for the military alliance, alongside air, land, sea and cyber. The comments came, notwithstanding the NATO Secretary General’s assurances that “the Alliance has no intention to put weapons into space and its approach to space will remain fully in line with international law.”20

Recently, the dispute between Russia and the US over the space security issue has intensified. In a statement of 15 April 2020, the US Space Command implied that Russia had conducted a “direct-ascent” anti-satellite test that showed that Russia’s missiles were capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit. The Space Command regarded this as providing “yet another example that the threats to US and allied space systems are real, serious and growing” and that the launch testifies, in the US view, “to the hypocrisy of the Russian authorities promoting an initiative to prevent the militarisation of outer space.”21

The details of the direct-ascent anti-satellite test were not disclosed by Russia. However, experts believe that most likely this was the launch of the “Nudol” ballistic missile interceptor initially developed and tested as an element of the modernized A-235 Moscow ABM defence system. In the 1990s, development of this project was temporarily discontinued, but beginning in 2011, the “Nudol” direct-accent ASAT system, which is likely an offshoot of the A-235, has been under development and testing. In relation to the April test the interceptor was equipped with a dummy kill vehicle and firing was not carried out on a real target, as previous ASAT tests by India, China and the US have been.22