Space, The New Battleground: Examining US Intelligence On Russian Nukes

hero satellite in space
The House Intelligence Committee chairman issued a warning this week of a “national security threat” in light of intel suggesting Russia is seeking to put a nuclear weapon in space. Lawmakers quickly tried to ease the public’s mind on the situation, even though one source remarked it was “very concerning” and a big deal.”

The topic of Russia has been hot and heavy for a while, with the country’s invasion of Ukraine being at front and center of most conversations. While the war with Ukraine has not directly involved the safety of America, new intel shared with lawmakers and President Biden has given rise to an additional concern that could involve the safety of all Americans. Evidently, the threat of Russia placing a nuclear weapon in space is dire enough that the House Intelligence Committee chairman issued a statement to President Biden that he should declassify “all information” concerning it.

“We are going to work together to address this matter, as we do all sensitive matters that are classified,” remarked House Speaker Mike Johnson to reporters at the Capitol. He added, “But we just want to assure everyone steady hands are at the wheel.”

Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement that the panel he was head of had “made available to all Members of Congress information concerning a serious national security threat.”

The United States, Russia, and China have the ability to attack satellites. However, according to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, all countries are prohibited from the use of nuclear weapons in space. That same treaty has instructions to nations to “not place in orbit around Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”

In terms of Russia and the war in Ukraine, satellites have been vital for Ukraine in keeping communication open. Elon Musk sent truck loads of Starlink receivers to Ukraine early in the war, and Starlink has since used thousands of satellites to help ensure the country does not lose communication because of Russian attacks.

us capitol building
US Capitol Building

In a letter to members of Congress from Rep. Turner and Rep. Jim Himes obtained by ABC News, the threat is linked to “a destabilizing foreign military capability that should be known by all Congressional Policy Makers.”

According to NPR, one theory that has been floated around is that Russia could use a nuclear weapon in space to disrupt and destroy satellites used for communication. Before the Outer Space Treaty was enacted, the US detonated a 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon high above the Pacific Ocean in a test known as “Starfish Prime.” It was reported that the detonation created an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that influenced electronics and communications in the area, and was powerful enough that it was able to knock out streetlights in Hawaii located some 900 miles away. It also caused an artificial radiation field , damaging numerous satellites in low Earth orbit over a period of weeks.

For now, Americans will have to place their faith in lawmakers and President Biden in terms of the new intel surrounding Russia's possible intent to place nuclear weapons in space. According to Rep. Himes, the warning is “significant” but “not a cause for panic.”