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Does US Missile Defense System Threaten ‘Outer Space,’ as Russian General Claims?

Russian Lt. General Viktor Poznikhir

Russian Lt. General Viktor Poznikhir

First Deputy Head of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces

The U.S. missile defense system is a threat to the free use of outer space by any state.”

...but with caveats

The U.S. has been concerned for decades about the militarization of space – particularly in regard to China and Russia – and how to counter possible enemy attacks from satellites.

The United States is party to an international treaty, signed in 1967, governing nations' “activities” in outer space, including militarization. The former Soviet Union was a party to the treaty.

After years of research, the U.S. successfully tested an anti-satellite missile - the ASM-135 - on September 13, 1985. Launched from an F-15 fighter jet, the missile destroyed an aged U.S. satellite.

By 1988, the ASM-135 system was replaced by a missile system known as SM3, with the most current version being SM3 2A. This is the system that Russian Lt. General Viktor Poznikhir was referring to when he made his comment about the U.S. being a threat to nations’ free use of outer space.

Beyond tests, the U.S. used the system once, on February 21, 2008, when a modified SM3 missile fired from a U.S. warship destroyed an errant U.S. military reconnaissance satellite. The satellite malfunctioned shortly after being fired into space. A Pentagon spokesperson said it was shot down to prevent the satellite, loaded with hazardous fuel, from falling back to Earth in one big piece.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said in 2015 that U.S. military “must be able to respond in an integrated, coordinated fashion to attacks on U.S. space assets.”

An October 31, 2016 article on said the U.S. Air Force will invest $5.5 billion in the coming years to “better defend against enemy space attacks.”

But the United States is not alone.

RAND Corporation senior political scientist Stephen Flanagan told in an email that “The Russians have tested anti-satellite weapons in the past and there are various media reports that the Russians are developing new (anti-satellite) weapons. Additionally, China tested an (anti-satellite weapon) in 2007, which the U.S. government has denounced for the hazardous debris the destruction of its satellite left in orbit.”