DANIEL VAUGHAN: Russian Space Weapons, Chinese Spy Balloons, And The Failure Of Biden Foreign Policy

 February 14, 2024

It's the stuff of science fiction or alternate history where the USSR wins the Cold War. Washington D.C. was astir this week because of accusations that the Russians are building towards a "space-based nuclear weapon designed to threaten America's extensive satellite network."

It came to light because Representative Mike Turner, Chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, shocked everyone. He released a statement "concerning a serious national security threat." He said, "I am requesting that President Biden declassify all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat."

It took journalists the rest of the day to figure out what threat he was referring to, which is when everyone learned about the space weapon referenced at the start.

Even with that reporting, it's unclear what has changed. The weaponry referenced here isn't exactly new or unknown. The Pentagon and other defense agencies funded multiple ways to look into the future for what WWIII would look like. One of the answers in 2016 was the deeply researched and realistic novel: "Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War."

In that, you see some of the clashes we have today, like over the importance of semiconductors. But satellite warfare is something else that China and Russia use in that book. Specifically, they use advanced weaponry to target and eliminate U.S. satellite coverage.

Wired Magazine noted in 2022, "Three months before Russian forces would invade Ukraine, Russia launched a Nudol missile interceptor that blew up Cosmos 1408, a defunct Soviet satellite, in the process flinging at least 1,400 bits of debris into low Earth orbit. The weapons test unsubtly demonstrated Russia's anti-satellite military capabilities, which are comparable to those of China and the United States."

The war in Ukraine also saw the Russians jam GPS satellites and more. That's one of many reasons Elon Musk's company, Starlink, has been vital to Ukraine. He's given them a lifeline to an alternative satellite and internet network that the Russians can't touch (and why recent stories of the Russians getting their hands on Starlink equipment are troubling).

The reporting around the current weapon is slightly different. ABC News reports, "Two sources familiar with deliberations on Capitol Hill said the intelligence has to do with Russia wanting to put a nuclear weapon into space. This would not be to drop a nuclear weapon onto Earth but rather to possibly use against satellites."

It's the sort of weapon that's aimed less at conflicts like Ukraine and more at the United States and NATO. Given the United States' position in it, it seems easy to presume we have similar capabilities against the Chinese and Russians. The question is, what does Russia plan here, and what should be our response? 

All the reporting says the White House is angry at Republicans for revealing this kind of weaponry without their consent. It's a funny line because it reverses where everyone stands over Russia and Ukraine. The Russians having a space weapon is a decently good argument for supporting Ukraine. 

But that's not where the Biden administration is currently going with this. They're focused on small intelligence briefings in Congress. Whether they use this to make a larger play for Congressional funding remains to be seen.

One thing this is reminiscent of is the Chinese Spy Balloon episode. The Biden administration knew about that, too, and tried to ignore it. That failed because amateur skywatchers found it, tracked it, and everyone knew where it was. The Biden White House begrudgingly admitted as the event happened that it was a Chinese spy device floating over U.S. airspace. 

The Russians activating a nuclear space weapon to target U.S. satellites is a similar thing. It's floating there, and it's unclear if this White House will do anything to counter that fact. We'll get some "tough-worded" statements but little else.

In truth, though, this is another sign that the world's major powers are gearing up for direct conflict. Whether or not satellite warfare constitutes a strike like sending troops is unclear. All the major powers engage in open cyberwar against each other. 

In the novel Ghost Fleet, defense strategists saw satellite warfare as the opening gambit of a more significant conflict. Without satellites, the United States would be effectively blind to happenings worldwide. Our extensive satellite network and navy reach make us the global superpower. Everyone tiptoes around American power. 

Whatever the case, the cat is out of the bag. The Russians are aiming to deploy nuclear weapons to space in a direct threat to the United States. Where this leads is unclear at the moment, but another sign the world is much closer to global conflict than we'd like to admit. 

The Biden White House is unprepared for this, as are Americans. There's a growing threat to the U.S. population with these new weapons of war. It's no longer science fiction. Space warfare is here, along with cyber-warfare. It's been a generation since the great powers were at each other like this. Hopefully, we remember the lessons of the past. 

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