Russia Using Space Weapons in Ukraine: US General

Russia Using Space Weapons in Ukraine: US General
On March 22, 2023, flags displayed at a funeral ceremony in Poltava, amid Russia's military invasion on Ukraine. (Ihor Tkachov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
Lawrence Wilson

Russia is using space weapons in the Ukraine war by jamming GPS signals from American GPS satellites used by Ukraine’s armed forces, according to a leading general in the U.S. Space Force.

However, Russia has stopped short of attempting to destroy space hardware, in part because its space capabilities are not fully developed and could not sustain a conflict with a major power, one expert believes.

Russia has Earth-based lasers capable of attacking satellites, electronic jamming equipment, and anti-satellite missiles, according to Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force.

“They have shown no qualms about testing these systems,” Saltzman told attendees at an April 5 forum on space defense conducted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“And they have every intention of using counter-space weapons in conflict, as we see in the war in Ukraine. We’ve seen cyberattacks against satellite internet providers as well as persistent SATCOM and GPS jamming.”

Russia has targeted the Navstar GPS system, which is operated by the Space Force and made available to a number of other countries.

“Space is … undeniably a contested warfighting domain,” Saltzman said.

The Space Force has been aware of the jamming since at least April 202. “Ukraine may not be able to use GPS because there are jammers around that prevent them from receiving any usable signal,” Space Force Gen. David Thompson said in an interview at that time.

Signals from the SpaceX Starlink system have also been jammed, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “Some Starlink terminals near conflict areas were being jammed for several hours at a time,” Musk wrote on Twitter in March 2022. “Our latest software update bypasses the jamming.”

The Russians conducted a major test of its anti-satellite weapons in November 2021 but have not so far moved to destroy satellites. That caution is likely due to a risk calculation, according to Anne Maruin, a researcher in geopolitics for the French Air Force.

“From the conflict in Ukraine, the results in space reveal that Moscow is currently adhering to a form of pragmatism that carefully considers the escalation risks at hand, should either US or European spacecraft indirectly serving Ukrainian forces be destroyed,” Maurin wrote in the spring 2023 edition of Aether: A Journal of Strategic Airpower & Spacepower.

Such a move would likely be seen as a cause for war, Maruin said, which Russia is unlikely to risk.

Russia has fewer space assets than either the United States or China, according to Maurin. She cited a 2022 statement by the head of Russia’s space agency, who said: “In a situation where it is necessary to aid our armed forces, we have rather modest resources at our disposal. This worries me personally.”

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