Pentagon Warns of ‘Devastating’ New Russian Anti-Satellite Nuclear Weapon

A senior official with the Department of Defense told lawmakers this week that Russia was developing an “indiscriminate” anti-satellite nuclear device that could ultimately pose a threat to every satellite that’s operated either by companies or countries across the world.

During a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee this week, John Plumb, who serves as an assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said:

“The concept that we are concerned about is Russia developing and — if we are unable to convince them otherwise — to ultimately fly a nuclear weapon in space which will be an indiscriminate weapon” that wouldn’t distinguish among commercial, civilian or military satellites.

The threat is “not imminent,” he added, but the DOD as well as the “entire” Biden administration is certainly worried about the program.

Members of the House committee asked Plumb what he believed the effect of such a weapon might be. He responded that radiation from a hypothetical nuclear detonation would render low-Earth orbit satellites essentially unusable for as much as a year.

He added that it was challenging to estimate exactly what the impact of the weapon might be, as they don’t know exactly how large it would be. Plumb did say that a rough assessment suggests “satellites that aren’t hardened against a nuclear detonation [in] space, which is most satellites, could be damaged and affected, and some would be caught in an immediate blast.”

This is the first time that a Biden administration official has spoken during an open congressional hearing about the potential capabilities of a Russian anti-satellite weapon.

Republican Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, first raised the issue of the Russian anti-satellite weapon back in February. He did so while making what were quite cryptic statements in public, in which he demanded that the White House declassify any information it had about an unnamed “serious national security threat.”

During the hearing this week, Turner pressed Plumb about the program Russia was undertaking.

Plumb issued written testimony to the members of the committee, writing that the capability that Russia has under development “could pose a threat to all satellites operated by countries and companies around the globe, as well as to the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial and national security services we all depend upon.”

Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary, sat for testimony at a separate House hearing on Tuesday. While he didn’t mention a specific weapon that Russia was developing, he said a nuclear detonation that happened in space “would have devastating consequences on a lot of our capabilities in space — not only our capabilities but the capabilities of other countries.”

Austin added:

“We think it’s irresponsible for anybody to even consider deploying or employing a nuclear device in space.”

Back in February, sources told NBC News that the weapon in question isn’t operational just yet, but that Moscow continues to pursue developing it.