In Brief

Russia, US and China on brink of an arms race in space

US voices deep suspicion over Moscow’s pursuit of new space weapons – even as it draws up plans for its own ‘Space Force’

Fears that the US and Russia could embark on a news arms race in outer space are growing, after a US official voiced deep suspicion about Moscow’s pursuit of new space weapons.

It comes just days after the US outlined plans for a new ‘Space Force’, which US Vice-President Mike Pence and Defence Secretary James Mattis said was vital to the country’s national interests.

Despite this, Yleem D.S. Poblete, US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, told a UN Conference on Disarmament which is discussing a new treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space, that Russia’s pursuit of counterspace capabilities was “disturbing”.

Russia has long maintained it is a priority to prevent an arms race in space, and signed a draft treaty to that effect with China a decade ago.

Since then, however, the Kremlin has adopted a more hardline approach to military expansion against the West, which experts fear could extend beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and fuel a new Cold War-style arms race for control of space.

Poblete cited “six new major offensive weapons systems”, including the Peresvet military mobile laser system, unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in March, and the launch of a new inspector satellite which was acting in an “abnormal” way, as “yet further proof that the Russian actions do not match their words”.

The Daily Express reports that US believes that the Russian laser “will not just be used to destroy space junk and that the cannon and detection system will be used to destroy and spy on international satellites”, however, Russia remains adamant the laser will be used for space debris, claiming that in a few centuries, space junk could clog up Earth’s orbit so much that it could make launches impossible.

Poblete went on to say that Russia’s pursuit of counterspace capabilities “is disturbing given the recent pattern of Russian malign behaviour” and its proposed treaty would not prohibit such activity, nor the testing and stockpiling of anti-satellite weapons capabilities.

Yet some in Russia and China have accused the US of hypocrisy, given the country's recent moves to create a sixth branch of the US army to operate in space.

Stressing the need for a special ‘Space Force’, Pence said on Thursday both China and Russia were actively looking for technologies that could interfere with or disable US space-based systems.

The South China Morning Post, however, says Chinese analysts expect Washington’s ambitious plan “to fuel an accelerating space arms race between the two nations and Russia, even though China’s technology still lags behind America’s”.

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