The US and Britain have accused Russia of carrying out an anti-satellite weapons test in space, firing a projectile from a Russian satellite that could be used to take down other satellites in orbit.

“We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon,” said Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth, head of the UK’s Space Directorate, in a statement late Thursday.

“Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends. We call on Russia to avoid any further such testing,” he said.

“We also urge Russia to continue to work constructively with the UK and other partners to encourage responsible behavior in space,” he said.

This is the first time the UK has accused Russia of test-firing weapons in space, and comes on the heels of the publication of a UK report saying it had badly underestimated the threat posed by Russia.

US Space Command said that on July 15, a Russia satellite called Cosmos 2453 “operated in abnormally close proximity to a US government satellite in low-earth orbit before it maneuvered away and over to another Russian satellite, where it released another object in proximity to the Russia target satellite.”

This test is inconsistent with the intended purpose of the satellite as an inspector system, as described by Russia.”

‘Space assets at risk’

“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” said Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of US Space Command and US Space Force chief of space operations, in a statement.

“This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold US and allied space assets at risk,” he added.

The recently created US Space Force was reportedly needed in part due to Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons.

Last month, the Pentagon published a space strategy document saying that China and Russia present the greatest strategic threat due to their “development, testing, and deployment of counterspace capabilities and their associated military doctrine for employment in conflict extending to space.”

“China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space,” it added.

Christopher Ford, the US State Department’s top arms control official, said the incident showed Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control “with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counterspace program – both ground-based anti-satellite capabilities and what would appear to be actual in-orbit anti-satellite weaponry.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said of the July 15 test that “During testing of the latest space technology, one of the domestic satellites was examined close up using the specialized equipment of small space craft,” adding that “valuable information about the technical condition of the object under investigation” had been obtained.

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