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According to a top general in the U.S. Space Force, Russia has taken to using space weapons in its war against Ukraine. Russian forces have been jamming GPS signals from American satellites that are used by Ukrainian troops.
Despite jamming signals from the satellites, Moscow has not yet attempted to destroy any of them, and one expert believes it's because Russia's space capabilities are not yet completely developed and would not survive a conflict with a major world power.
Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, has confirmed that Russia has Earth-based lasers capable of attacking satellites along with electronic jamming equipment and anti-satellite missiles.
"They have shown no qualms about testing these systems," Saltzman said on April 5 during a forum on space defense that was held by the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies.
"And they have every intention of using counter-space weapons in conflict, as we see in the war in Ukraine. We've seen cyberattacks against satellite internet providers as well as persistent SATCOM and GPS jamming," Saltzman added.
Russian forces have targeted the Space Force's Navstar GPS system, which is also utilized by several other countries.
"Space is... undeniably a contested warfighting domain," Saltzman noted.
The Space Force has been aware of Russia's jamming signals since at least April 2022. Space Force Gen. David Thompson stated in an interview, "Ukraine may not be able to use GPS because there are jammers around that prevent them from receiving any usable signal."
According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the company's Starlink systems have also been jammed. "Some Starlink terminals near conflict areas were being jammed for several hours at a time," Musk tweeted in March 2022. "Our latest software update bypasses the jamming," he added.
While the Russians have not attempted to destroy any of the satellites they have been jamming, Moscow did conduct a major test of its anti-satellite weapons in November 2021. According to Anne Maruin, a French Air Force researcher in geopolitics, Russia is most likely being cautious about its space endeavors due to risk calculation.
"From the conflict in Ukraine, the results in space reveal that Moscow is currently adhering to a form of pragmatism that carefully considers the escalation risks at hand, should either U.S. or European spacecraft indirectly serving Ukrainian forces be destroyed," Maruin published in the spring 2023 edition of Aether: A Journal of Strategic Airpower & Spacepower.
According to Maruin, such a move would likely be seen as a cause for war by much of the world, which is a risk Russia is unlikely to take.
Maruin also noted that both China and the U.S. have more space assets than Russia does. According to a 2022 statement by the chief of Russia's space agency, "In a situation where it is necessary to aid our armed forces, we have rather modest resources at our disposal. This worries me personally."