US military accuses Russia of testing space-based anti-satellite weapon

US military accuses Russia of testing space-based anti-satellite weapon
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The U.S. military is accusing Russia of conducting an anti-satellite weapons test in space earlier this month.

In a statement Thursday, U.S. Space Command said a Russian satellite known as Cosmos 2543 on July 15 released a new object into orbit, describing the action as a “non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon.”

The object was released near another Russian satellite, according to the news release, which added that Russia engaged in similar behavior in 2017. In a June news conference, the Pentagon described the 2017 activity as a Russian satellite launching a “high-speed projectile.”

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Thursday’s statement comes after Space Command in February accused the Russian satellite of shadowing a U.S. satellite in a “disturbing” manner.

"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," Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command and U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, said in a statement Thursday.

"This is further evidence of Russia's continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin's published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk,” Raymond added.

The United Kingdom later backed up the U.S. accusation.

“We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon,” Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, the head of the U.K.’s space directorate, said in a statement tweeted out by the U.K. Defense Ministry. “Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends."

The U.S. allegation was first reported by Time on Thursday morning as part of an in-depth profile of the dawn of the Space Force.

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The sixth branch of the U.S. military was created in December with a mission of protecting U.S. satellites and other space assets from threats from Russia and China.

Since then, U.S. officials have been more frequently calling out alleged threatening behavior by Moscow and Beijing in space. In April, Space Command accused Russia of testing an anti-satellite missile.

Russia maintains the satellites at the center of the U.S. allegations have a peaceful mission and has accused the United States of being the one militarizing space by creating the Space Force.

The Trump administration has responded by calling Moscow “hypocritical.”

Russia’s July weapons test “highlights Russia's hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control, with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counterspace program — both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry," Christopher Ford, acting under secretary of State for arms control and international security, said in a statement Thursday.