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NSSA Statement on the Russian ASAT Test

Press Release From: National Security Space Association
Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The National Security Space Association (NSSA) condemns Russia'srecent test of a ground-based, kinetic energy anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon system against a target satellite in low Earth orbit. This irresponsible test created thousands of pieces of long-lived debris that jeopardize the flight safety of all nations' spacecraft and harm the sustainability of the space environment.  Moreover, Moscow's willful disregard for the consequences of the test callously endangered the lives of the astronauts on the International Space Station, including two Russian Cosmonauts. There is no justification for this reckless act. The Russian ASAT test was not an isolated incident, however. It is the latest in a series of provocative actions by both Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing are developing, testing, and fielding an array of ground-based and orbital counterspace weapon systems. Furthermore, China recently tested a hypersonic fractional orbital bombardment weapon. These actions belie the hypocrisy of their rhetoric in the United Nations advocating for a treaty to prevent the placement of weapons in space.

By weaponizing space and taking other aggressive actions in the cyber and terrestrial domains, Russia and China are undermining the rules-based international order to reshape the world in ways favorable to the interests of their authoritarian regimes at the expense of the security of the United States, our allies, and international partners. In particular, Beijing's and Moscow's operation of space weapons threaten other nations' freedom of access to, passage through, and operations in space.  Space activities are critical to the economic well-being and national security of the United States and many other nations around the world.  Successive administrations have stated that the United Stateshas a vital national interest in assuring unimpeded access to and use of the domain. Any conflict that begins in or extends to outer space will involve the highest stakes. The clear and dangerous threat to space security posed by Russiaand China thus is an urgent matter. Purposeful interference and other hostile acts against space systems demand a coordinated response by U.S., allied, and friendly governments, the private sector, and the broader international community. Criticizing the Russian ASAT test alone is not enough; additional measures are necessary to better position the United States to protect and advance our national interests in space.

The United States must take the lead in creating the international security framework to deter and, if necessary, defeat threats to the freedom of space.  Diplomatic initiatives to create international opprobrium against debris-generating ASAT tests and establish norms of responsible space operations behaviors are important but insufficient.  NSSA urges the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, space industry, and other private sector partners to collaborate in the development and implementation of a comprehensive, whole of nation(s) approach to address the complex challenge to space security.  Policy, guidance, strategy, plans, and additional resources are needed to deliver capabilities and execute joint and combined actions employing all elements of statecraft and national power to deter, protect, and defend the right to use outer space for peaceful purposes.  In this regard, the U.S. government should undertake a series of actions including:

  • The President should issue declaratory policy underscoring long-standing national principles regarding the United States' commitment to the peaceful uses of outer space, U.S. national interests in space, the sovereignty of U.S. space systems, and the right of national and collective self-defense in space as well as establishing the principle that the U.S. will not allow space to be used by other nations as a sanctuary from which to conduct hostile acts. 
  • The President should prepare and submit to Congress an integrated, comprehensive strategy to deter, through both denial of benefit and cost imposition, Russian and/or Chinese aggression involving the threat or use of armed force against U.S. national interests in space and to defeat such aggression should it occur. 
  • The Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense should focus diplomatic efforts on working with allies, partners, and friends with shared values, interests, and objectives regarding the freedom of space to establish new or extend existing political and security relationships that will combine the resources and power of many nations for deterrence as well as collective or mutual self-defense in space while continuing to engage China and Russia on space security matters and seeking agreement on measures to reduce the risk of inadvertent or accidental conflict in space arising from operational mishaps or misunderstanding. 
  • The Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Director of National Intelligence should assess the operating capabilities of the U.S. Space Command, U.S. Space Force, and National Reconnaissance Office as well as their modernization plans and budgets to ensure government, commercial, and international space assets employed for U.S. national security have the necessary performance, assurance, resilience, survivability, endurance, and continuity to conduct prompt and sustained defense and intelligence space operations that meet the requirements of national and military users under operationally contested, degraded, and limited conditions. 
  • The Congress should review the executive branch's aforementioned assessment of space mission capability gaps, shortfalls, proposed solutions, and associated transition plans as part of its deliberations on the National Defense Authorization Act, Department of Defense Appropriations Act, and Intelligence Authorization Act.

To learn more about NSSA's stance on this topic, please contact Joe Dodd, Chair of the NSSA Board of Directors, or Steve Jacques, NSSA Executive Director, at info@nssaspace.org.

The NSSA has issued detailed reports with actionable recommendations on several of these and related topics, including modernizing the national security space acquisition system and revising security policy guidance for defense and intelligence space activities with analyses and additional actionable recommendations.  For additional information, please see www.nssaspace.org.

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