Concerns are reportedly growing over whether space satellite hacking would be grounds for war.
Ratcheting up the worries was a recent warning by Russia’s senior space official Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin about tampering with its satellites, Nextgov has reported.
“I want to warn everyone who tries to do it that it is essentially a crime, which should be toughly punished,” Rogozin said, Interfax first reported. “Because disabling the satellite group of any country is generally a casus belli, that is, a reason to go to war. And we will be looking for those who organized it.”
That prompted a cautious response from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.
“The only thing I really can say in response to that, I think, is that anyone who attacks a U.S. asset has to be very concerned about the consequences of that act,” Kendall told Nextgov. “You're talking about something that's fairly unprecedented, quite frankly.”
There have been previous threats from Rogozin amid the war with Ukraine about crashing the International Space Station, which Russia partners with the United States and other nations to maintain, Nextgov reported,
A group of hackers has claimed it hit Russia’s civilian space agency-run satellites. Rogozin dismissed it, Nextgov reported.
Still, two national security experts are hesitant to believe statements from Russian leadership, Nextgov reported.
“My first thought was that either they have been hacked or they are preparing a misinformation campaign to justify further aggression in space,” Todd Harrison, a senior fellow in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program told Nextgov. “Russia could claim a cyberattack against their space systems and use that as a pretext for attacking other space systems.”
New America strategist and senior fellow Peter Singer told the news outlet his first response was “‘I hope [Rogozin] remembers this the next time Russia tries it.’”
But in a separate comment to the news outlet, he added: “It fits within a larger pattern of bluster that [Rogozin] and the Russian government have thrown out towards the West in the midst of their invasion of Ukraine.”
There are already documented instances of cyberattacks against space systems during peacetime, Nextgov noted. But it’s a different world now.
“I think what is different in this conflict is that commercial space remote sensing is playing a more important role than ever before, and it is possible that this could be the first conflict in which counterspace weapons play a major role — depending on what Russia chooses to do,” Harrison told Nextgov.
In 2021, the White House published its Space Priorities Framework. It’s not entirely comprehensive, Harrison noted.
And in some ways, space is already playing a crucial role in this modern conflict, Singer told Nextgov.
“But there are other elements where it hasn't played a role — for good reason. That doesn't mean that if there was, for example, a war between the U.S. and Russia, we would not see massive space elements of it,” Singer told the news outlet. “[But] I'd be wary of drawing conclusions about the entire future of space warfare out of a couple of days of the Russian-Ukraine conflict.”
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