The United States is warning that recent Russian movements in space signal the country is building a military space force that could employ a "combat laser system" capable of knocking American satellites offline, according to senior administration official.
In remarks before the United Nations Tuesday, Yleem Poblete, the assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance warned that Russia is making unprecedented moves towards militarizing space with offensive weaponry.
"The United States is concerned with what appears as very abnormal behavior by this so-called ‘space apparatus inspector,'" Poblete said. "We do not know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify its mission. Moreover, Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear."
This amounts to a "troubling development—particularly, when considered in concert with statements by Russia's Space Troops Commander which highlighted that ‘assimilat[ing] new prototypes of weapons [into] Space Forces' military units' is a ‘main task facing the Aerospace Forces Space Troops,'" according to Poblete.
This could constitute a violation of U.N. bans of the militarization of space.
"It is also concerning in light of statements from senior Russian military officials that Russia's Space Troops have taken delivery of a ‘combat laser system,'" according to Poblete. "Further, Russia claims to be developing missiles that can be launched from an aircraft mid-flight to destroy American satellites. To the United States, these developments are yet further proof that Russian military actions do not match their diplomatic rhetoric."
Poblete went on to warn that "the drafters of the NFP resolution and the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (or PPWT) are developing capabilities that are designed to attack satellites in space—the very thing that they claim to seek to prohibit."
The Trump administration will not sit idly by as Russia and others attempt to gain the advantage in the militarization of space.
"While the United States would prefer that the space domain remain free of conflict, it will prepare to meet and overcome any challenges that arise," Poblete said. "As Vice President Pence recently noted, ‘Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge.'"
The United States will not support various treaties proposed by the Russians to limit space militarization at a time when they are behaving in the opposite manner, Poblete said.
"The draft PPWT and the NFP resolution are not the right mechanisms for achieving these goals," she said. "They are fundamentally flawed proposals advanced by a country that has routinely violated its international obligations. That is why the United States continues to urge countries not to support the façade of Russia's Potemkin resolution and instead vote ‘No.'"