The United States has accused Russia of conducting the test of an anti-satellite weapon in space that Washington fears could be used to threaten critical U.S. and allied satellites.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that a small space vehicle on July 15 inspected one of its satellites up close “using special equipment.” However, the United States said on July 23 that the craft actually had a different mission.
“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” said General John W. Raymond, commander of Space Command and the head of the U.S. Space Force.
He said it was consistent with Russia’s stated military doctrine to deploy weapons that could potentially neutralize U.S. and allied space assets.
The United States has accused Russia and China of trying to weaponize space.
President Donald Trump in December formerly created the Space Force to focus U.S. efforts on defending itself from space-based weapons.
Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day, but it is unclear if they discussed the July 15 event.
Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, the head of the British government’s space directorate, supported the U.S. conclusion.
He wrote on Twitter that the Russians had launched a projectile “with the characteristics of a weapon."
Space Command said that on July 15 a Russian satellite, designated Cosmos 2543, “operated in abnormally close proximity to a U.S. government satellite” before moving on to another Russian satellite, where it released an object at high speed.
Space Command said the test “is inconsistent” with the space mission described by Russia.
The actions of Cosmos 2543 were similar to those of another Russian satellite launched in 2017 that raised concerns in Washington about Moscow’s behavior in space.