Russia Fires Its First Shot in Looming Space War

November 17th, 2021 - by Victoria Samson / Secure World Foundation

Statement on Russia’s Anti-satellite Attack Test

Victoria Samson / Secure World Foundation

(November 16, 2021) — On Nov. 15, 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test in low Earth orbit, where an interceptor of the Nudol ground-based ASAT system was used to destroy one of Russia’s own derelict satellites, Cosmos-1408.

The satellite was at an orbit of about 480 kilometers in altitude; the interception created at least 1500 pieces of trackable debris. This debris field will expand in size and spread in a ring around the Earth that will likely remain on orbit to threaten other space objects for years to come.

Regardless of rationale, to deliberately create orbital debris of this magnitude is extremely irresponsible. Orbital debris poses an indiscriminate risk to everyone’s satellites in orbit, endangering critical space-based services we all rely on, as well as the human lives on the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong Space Station.

This is not the first time a country has tested an anti-satellite weapon and created debris on orbit; we detail three previous cases by the United States, China, and India in our report, Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment. 

We call upon the United States, Russia, China, and India to declare unilateral moratoriums on further testing of their anti-satellite weapons that could create additional orbital debris and to work with other countries towards solidifying an international ban on destructive ASAT testing.

The continued testing or demonstration of anti-satellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible space-faring state should engage. 

This event also shows that the United Nations’ planned Open-Ended Working Group on space threats and responsible behavior is more important than ever.  We hope that during its scheduled meetings in 2022 and 2023, the global community will reach agreement that debris-producing anti-satellite testing is irresponsible behavior.

It is in the interests of all to refrain from the deliberate creation of space debris that negates the collective efforts of many other space actors to reduce or avoid debris creation during their normal space operations.

Victoria Samson is the Washington Office Director of the Secure World Foundation, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW | Washington, DC 20036 USA

Global Counterspace Capabilities

Secure World Foundation

Russian satellite can track down and destroy other satellites.


Space security has become an increasingly salient policy issue. Over the last several years, there has been growing concern from multiple governments over the reliance on vulnerable space capabilities for national security, and the corresponding proliferation of offensive counterspace capabilities that could be used to disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy space systems.

This, in turn, has led to increased rhetoric from some countries about the need to prepare for future conflicts on Earth to extend into space, and calls from some corners to increase the development of offensive counterspace capabilities and put in place more aggressive policies and postures.

We feel strongly that a more open and public debate on these issues is urgently needed. Space is not the sole domain of militaries and intelligence services. Our global society and economy is increasingly dependent on space capabilities, and a future conflict in space could have massive, long-term negative repercussions that are felt here on Earth.

Even testing of these capabilities could have long-lasting negative repercussions for the space environment, and all who operate there. The public should be as aware of the developing threats and risks of different policy options as would be the case for other national security issues in the air, land, and sea domains.

Highlights from the 2021 Report

Overall Global Assessment


•  Launch of an experimental Chinese spaceplane and potential deployment of a subsatellite

•  SJ-17 RPO on the geostationary belt with SJ-20 and Chinasat 6B

•  Unverified reports of Chinese counterspace jammers deployed to the India-China border

•  Clarification of the role of the Strategic Support Force in Chinese military space and counterspace operations


•  More details about the Burevestnik program including an aircraft-carried solid fuel launch vehicle for potentially deploying co-orbital ASATs

•  More details about the Cosmos 2543 RPO of USA 245 and public concerns from senior US military leaders 

•  Deployment of a subsatellite/projectile from Cosmos 2543

•  Two new tests of the Nudol ground-based DA-ASAT system

•  New program called Tobol that is reportedly aimed at protecting Russian satellites from uplink jamming

•  New report of testing of the A-60 airborne laser dazzler against a Japanese satellite

•  Deployment of the Peresvet mobile laser dazzler system to protect Russian mobile ICBMs

•  New Milky Way program to upgrade Russian SSA capabilities with new ground- and space-based telescopes

•  More details about the organic integration of counterspace EW units into Russian Motorised Rifle Brigades

United States

•  Added details about the SAINT satellite inspector and co-orbital ASAT program and the Bold Orion, High Virgo, Project Hi-Ho, Nike Zeus, and Program 437 ground-based DA-ASAT programs that were active in the 1950s and 1960s

•  Added details on OTV-6 of the X-37B, which included a potential satellite deployment and testing of an on-orbit power beaming system

•  New Meadowlands update to the Counter Communications System (CCS)

•  Deployment of GPS M-Code signals and end user terminals

•  Deployment of ORS-5 and TDO-2 satellites for space-based SSA

•  New counterspace and deterrence aspects of the 2020 US National Space Policy

•  Details on the stand-up and organization of the US Space Force and US Space Command

•  Details on space doctrine from the US Space Force Space Capstone Publication and the US Space Command’s Commander’s Strategic Vision

•  Allied participation in Operation Olympic Defender


•  Development plan for the French Space Command


•  More details about the 2019 Indian ASAT test 

•  Indian government official remarks about potential future ASAT tests at higher altitudes

•  New information on Indian directed energy weapons research

•  Operational status of the Indian SSA Control Centre


•  New Iranian military space launch vehicle, the Qassed

•  Details on the creation of the Iranian Space Command

•  Reports of GPS spoofing near the staff college for the Iranian Army


•  Successful SM-3 Block 2A intercept test

•  Information on SSA hosted payloads from the United States to be added to future Japanese QZSS satellites

•  Renamed National Space Policy Secretariat

•  Details on the June 2020 Outline of the Basic Plan on Space Policy for Japan

North Korea

•  No significant developments reported


•  Conference paper detailing weaknesses in commercial geostationary satellite broadband Internet services

The 2021 report also includes a new appendix with historical tables of ASAT testing in space by country and a revamped appendix of satellite imagery of key launch and test facilities associated with counterspace programs.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact SWF Director of Program Planning Dr. Brian Weeden at or Washington Office Director Ms. Victoria Samson at