Russian spacecraft tailing US spy satellite, top Space Force official says

Russian spacecraft tailing US spy satellite, top Space Force official says
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The commander of the newly-established U.S. Space Force said Monday that two Russian satellites appear to be shadowing a U.S. spy satellite, often coming within 100 miles of the multibillion-dollar craft.

“We view this behavior as unusual and disturbing,” Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said of the activity in an interview with TIME. “It has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space.”

Raymond said U.S. analysts first noticed something amiss when the Russian spacecraft appeared to split into two smaller ones shortly after it was launched Nov. 26 mounted on a Soyuz rocket.

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“The way I picture it, in my mind, is like Russian nesting dolls,” Raymond told TIME. “The second satellite came out of the first satellite.”

It marks the first incident of a standoff between a U.S. satellite and that of an adversarial nation, but is reminiscent of encounters between Russian and U.S. warships and fighter jets, as well as Cold War-era tensions that led to costly arms races.

“The initial costs of setting up the Space Force are likely a small down payment on an undertaking that could cost tens of billions of dollars in the years to come,” William D. Hartung, director of the arms and security project at the Center for International Policy, told TIME.

“The last thing we need is more bureaucracy at the Pentagon, but that’s exactly what the Space Force is likely to give us. Creating a separate branch of the armed forces for space also risks militarizing U.S. space policy and promoting ill-advised and dangerous projects that could involve deploying weapons in space,” Hartung added.

The Russian government has insisted the satellites are “inspector” spacecraft conducting an “experiment” rather than weapons, according to the magazine. 

“With regard to the maneuvering of various objects in space, this is the practice used by many countries. There are appropriate specialized mechanisms for working it out,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in a statement. “We are not leaving dialogue with the Americans on this topic."

"The Americans are striving to find some kind of counterbalance to our activity by bringing all kinds of accusations against us," he added.