Turner Warns of Russia’s Nuclear Anti-Satellite Weapons Program During Speech at CSIS

US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Washington, D.C., June 20, 2024

Today, Congressman Mike Turner (OH-10), Chairman of the House Permanent Select on Intelligence, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, and head of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delivered a major speech about the Russian nuclear anti-satellite threat at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Below are Chairman Turner’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

The Space Age began when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. The eyes of the world turned to the sky and wondered how space and technology would now change life on Earth. The Space Age will end when Russia launches its nuclear anti-satellite weapon into orbit.

General Salzman, Chief of Staff of the United States Space Force, has referred to the potential launch date of Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite weapon as “Day Zero.” Because, from that day, no one can count on space the next day. From that day forward, the assumption on Earth must be that in order to preserve our economic, social, and military structures, we must have an alternative to space. Right now, there isn’t one.

Trillions and Trillions of dollars and time we don’t have will be required to build duplicative and redundant systems just to preserve what we accomplished in the Space Age. For some things, no alternatives exist.

The United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty entered into force in 1967, signed by the Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom, declared: “States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner.” The treaty was entered into based upon the promise to “mankind” of advances on planet Earth that might arise from the exploration and utilization of space.

The signatories could not have imagined the world of today where agriculture, medicine, commercial transactions, communications, maritime navigation, international security, and even our ability to tell time is space dependent. Similarly, we cannot imagine a world where it is not. On “Day Zero,” at the end of the Space Age, we will have to.

The Biden Administration, only after having been challenged by a group of bipartisan Members of the House Intelligence Committee, reluctantly declassified that Russia is developing a nuclear anti-satellite weapon intended to be placed in orbit in outer space. No additional information has been released.

News reports have speculated that the weapon is past development, exists, and is preparing to launch. Additional news reports have speculated that Russia already has a satellite in orbit that is a “test” first phase of Russia’s anti-satellite nuclear weapon system. Without confirming or denying the accuracy of any of these reports, the questions they raise must be answered by the Biden Administration immediately.

Regardless of Russia’s timing or the possible immediacy of this evolving threat, this crisis is the “Cuban Missile Crisis in Space,” and the Administration is failing. The advances that mankind has made during the Space Age are at risk, and the Administration is sleepwalking into an irreversible “Day Zero.”

Dr. Plum, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite weapon if detonated in low earth orbit (LEO), would indiscriminately decimate all satellites within LEO and would render that orbit and space unusable for likely at least a year. Mankind would be unable to repopulate LEO satellites during this period, and manned space exploration would be deadly.

This threat would mean that our economic, international security and social systems come to a grinding halt. This would be a catastrophic and devastating attack upon Western economic and democratic systems. Vladimir Putin knows this, checkmate.

“Day Zero” can be avoided. Imagine how different the world would have been if President Kennedy had allowed Nikita Kruschev to place nuclear weapons in Cuba. Europe would not be free. The United States would have been too fearful to challenge Russia in Europe with nuclear weapons just off the coast of Florida. Just as Kruschev could have held the United States hostage with nuclear threats from Cuba, Vladimir Putin will hold the world’s space assets hostage to counter attempts to stop him from reassembling the Soviet Union.

There is precedent for Russian-United States nuclear weapons control treaties to include the dismantling of destabilizing weapons, inspection regimes, and prohibitions against deployment. But such treaties are only negotiated through strength, something the Biden Administration seems incapable of showing.

In order to avoid “Day Zero” the Biden Administration must immediately declassify all known information concerning the status of Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite weapons program. Vladimir Putin thrives in secrecy. Putin’s plans and weapons programs must be fully disclosed by the Administration and understood by the world.

In addition, the United States and its NATO allies must join together to declare the resolve to enforce the UN Outer Space Treaty.

There are risks in confronting Russia. The Biden Administration is incredibly reluctant to take any action that would appear to be escalatory. However, Russia is the aggressor, and an escalation has already occurred. Now, the United States must stand strong with our allies to stop “Day Zero” and preserve space, as the UN Outer Space Treaty intended, for the betterment of all mankind.

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John Pike