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Russia plans nuclear capability in space, say reports

Russia is planning to launch nuclear capabilities into space, according to intelligence reportedly released to every member of the US Congress.

The news came after insiders told ABC News in the US that the development was the subject of previously unknown warnings issued by GOP House Intelligence chair Mike Turner.

The media outlet reported that the capability would be used to target satellites, but it’s also not known whether the apparent threat represents a nuclear weapon or nuclear-enabled technology.

Dr Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and leading national security voice on space policy, warned that although the nuclear anti-satellite capability would likely not yet operational, it represents a critical challenge to cooperation and collaboration in space.


“Consistent media reporting suggests it’s a Russian counterspace capability with 'some form of nuclear component',” Dr Davis told Space Connect's sister brand, Defence Connect.

“The latest reports suggest that the capability is yet to be operationally deployed, but is being developed.

“If Russia were to actually place nuclear weapons in orbit, that would be a violation of Article IV of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and very serious indeed - it would completely undermine any efforts towards further space arms control and prevention of weaponisation of space.”

The use of nuclear weapons in space would result in the indiscriminate damage of commercial and military satellites, Dr Davis continued.


“A nuclear-weapons based capability would, if employed, generate wide area affects to take down large numbers of satellites quickly, but also be highly indiscriminate, and potentially generate electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects on the Earth's surface.”

The orbital launch of nuclear weapons against terrestrial targets remains highly unlikely.

“Short of the Russians employing either system against terrestrial targets, which seems highly unlikely, the effects of such a capability would be confined to space. The notion of dropping nuclear bombs from orbit onto terrestrial targets has been largely discredited as ineffective due to the laws of orbital dynamics, in comparison with delivery by ballistic missile.”

The academic noted that threats were not limited to the potential deployment of nuclear weapons in space.

Other potential risks include nuclear powered satellites that could be used to power enhanced directed jamming or electronic warfare capabilities, or the use of a fractional orbital bombardment system that could have nuclear armed hypersonic glide vehicles, Dr Davis continued.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to conduct intelligence briefings on the incident over the next day.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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