Russia's nuclear anti-satellite weapon poses 'no immediate threat' to Earth, White House says

The White House has reassured the American public that a Russian nuclear space weapon, presently in development, poses no threat to people or property on the ground.

Speculation and worries about the weapon surfaced on Wednesday (Feb. 14) after House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) publicly asked President Biden to "declassify all information relating to this threat." Soon after, members of Congress and the United States' European allies were briefed on the threat, which is reported to be associated with some type of nuclear anti-satellite (ASAT) capability.

On Thursday (Feb. 15), White House National Security Communications Advisor John F. Kirby spoke to the press during a daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., assuring the public that there is no need to be concerned about any attack on the homeland from such an ASAT weapon.

"And though Russia's pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone's safety. We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth," Kirby said. The White House spokesperson refused to elaborate about whether the capability is nuclear-powered or a nuclear weapon.

Related: Russian plans for space-based nuclear weapon to target satellites spark concern in US Congress

White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby speaks alongside White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Feb. 15, 2024 in Washington, DC.  (Image credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

When asked if the United States currently has the capability to defend against this particular ASAT technology, Kirby replied only that the Biden administration is taking the claims seriously. 

"We don't talk about that publicly," Kirby told reporters. "But we're taking this potential threat very, very seriously. And we are examining what the best next steps are and what our options might be."

Kirby also downplayed claims made in Russian state media that reports about Russia's development of a nuclear ASAT weapon surfaced only as a "ploy" to push Congress to approve supplemental military aid for Ukraine. Kirby simply responded that those claims are "bollocks."

If Russia is indeed pursuing such a capability, it would be in violation of Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by both the United States and the Soviet Union. The treaty prohibits signing nations from placing into orbit "any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner."

However, it remains unclear what, if any, consequences Russia or any other nation would face if they violate the treaty, according to Sharon Squassoni, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. 

"There are no treaty-prescribed consequences of noncompliance, but states could choose to impose sanctions related to this," Squassoni told "Another complication is whether we know what the capability is until Russia actually uses it. If we do have excellent intelligence, are we willing to share it to make the case for imposing costs on Russia? Not clear."

Kirby said during Thursday's White House briefing that the U.S. takes its obligations to uphold the terms of the treaty "very seriously" and has "no intention" to violate it.

Another common question is whether the capability is intended specifically to counter SpaceX's Starlink constellation of satellites, which have already been tested for use in live-fire targeting exercises by the U.S. military and are used widely throughout Ukraine during Russia's ongoing invasion of that nation.

SpaceX is also developing a similar satellite constellation known as Starshield which is aimed specifically towards government uses, particularly by the U.S. military and its associated agencies. 

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor,

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.

  • Classical Motion
    I figure it's an EMP device or formation of such. It's the only way a nuc could be effective and justify the cost.

    Otherwise all that's needed for sat destruction is K energy. A cheap shotgun.