It’s a mystery how we missed this recent mystery.
But Russia has launched a military satellite that, according to U.S. officials, is behaving strangely. And they say concerns are mounting that it is a test for some kind of military weapon, perhaps designed to cripple or silence an adversary’s satellites.
An arms race in space makes perfect sense for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently boasted about new missile and submarine technology.
Last month a State Department official at a space conference in Switzerland said: “Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development.”
Russian officials called the remarks “unfounded and slanderous.” Reuters reported a Russian diplomat dismissed the satellite reports as “the same unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions, on suppositions and so on.”
But notably, they made no attempt to explain the satellite’s mission. Since the satellite belongs to Moscow’s Ministry of Defense, it is assumed to be military.
The satellite was launched last summer from Russia’s Baikonur space complex. Since then, it has appeared to give birth to two smaller satellites and to have possibly silenced two other nearby Russian satellites, perhaps with lasers or sonic devices.
You may recall back in 2007 China tested an anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites, which added thousands of pieces of space debris to the millions already in orbit around the Earth.
Without a missile track, it would be impossible to verify an attack on a satellite. Satellites have become absolutely essential defense tools in modern times for monitoring other countries’ communications and movements.
In polar orbit, a single satellite can “see” every square inch of the globe daily. Others can be parked over specific areas. Remember past U.S. announcements that North Korea was dismantling an engine test site or preparing a missile launch?
Or when President Trump ordered Tomahawk missile strikes on a specific Syrian air force base for launching a chemical weapons attack on civilians? And how would Defense Secy. James Mattis know so precisely that those missiles destroyed exactly 17 percent of Bashir al-Assad’s air force?
But be careful whenever you hear any government warn about potential threats. Recall last month’s satellite talk coincided with the start of President Trump and Vice President Pence talking up the need for a Space Force as another branch of the nation’s military?
Some ominous potential Russian space threat could help sell that argument to the public and in the halls of Congress, albeit a possibly legitimate threat.
Given the secret sophistication of the U.S. military’s vast fleet of existing satellites planned and deployed by the National Reconnaissance Office and operated by the Air Force, it seems likely, however, they already know what the Russian device is doing.
Here’s an interesting video report by CNN that bought into the threat scenario.