Testing an anti-satellite weapon in space in Russia – a claim denied by Moscow – has been labeled “very dangerous” by a former deputy chief of defense staff.
Oscow has rejected claims by the US and the UK government that it threatened “peaceful use of space” after the UK accused Russia of launching a projectile “with the characteristics of a weapon” in a satellite test.
The decision by the head of the British space agency, Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, to speak out this week was the first time the Ministry of Defense (MoD) had called up such Russian activities.
It is very dangerous because there is always a risk of miscalculation on both sidesSir Simon Mayall
It was the same week that a long-awaited report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee was published accusing the government of seriously underestimating the scope and nature of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in British democracy.
Lt. Gen. Sir Simon Mayall, ex-deputy chief of defense staff, said he believed the alleged anti-satellite activity was a further example of President Vladimir Putin seeking to step up on the ante against the West.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Sir Simon said: “Putin, who has been challenging the West largely in many areas since 2006 – Georgia, Ukraine, Libya, you name it – now try some of I suspect it for domestic consumption, but also to raise the bar, to create a new confrontation area with the West.
“So it is very dangerous because there is always a risk of miscalculation on both sides.”
He urged the UK to lobby against the development of anti-satellite weapons, adding, “The consequences (are there) for every nation on Earth of some sort of catastrophic confrontation in space because we are so dependent on satellites and will remain. “
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegations and said in a statement that the July 15 experiment did not threaten other space objects and was in accordance with international law.
It described the claims as part of an “information campaign to discredit Russia’s space activities and its peaceful initiatives to prevent an arms race in space”.
But Will Whitehorn, president of UK Space, the body representing the British space industry, said he was confident in the Department of Defense’s assessment.
When asked in the Today program if he thought Russia had conducted a weapon test, he said, “Yes, I am pretty sure from everything I’ve read in the public media that it was a kinetic weapon … because of the speed it drove, the way it launched, the way it orbited Earth.
“It actually didn’t hit anything – it’s very likely that it was a test that went wrong or they decided they didn’t want to do anything with it.
“The fact is that it was by no means a satellite itself – it seemed to me what the public would call a kind of bullet.”
The former president of Virgin Galactic confirmed that the so-called ‘bullet’ appeared to come from a Russian satellite.