Russian Satellites Stalk U.S. Spy Satellite

By: Nick Beekhuizen

In what General John “Jay” Raymond, commander of the U.S. Space Force, described as “unusual and disturbing [behavior],” two Russian satellites have begun closely following a U.S. spy satellite. [1] The Russian satellite was launched on November 26th, 2019, and in less than two weeks, had split into two pieces. [2] By mid-January, it was clear that the trajectory of the pair of satellites was suspiciously close to USA 245, a school-bus sized American spy satellite. [3].

It is unclear what the Russian satellites intend to glean through its close trajectory. However, theories include that Russia may be trying to intercept American communications with USA 245, or determine what ground targets USA 245 is taking high-resolution photos of. [4] Russia has denied the threatening nature of their satellites’ behavior, and has stated the satellites are conducting an experiment to assess the “technical conditions of domestic satellites.” [5] General Raymond, not persuaded by Russia’s explanation, believes that the act of “maneuvering close to a foreign satellite for an ‘inspection’ is virtually indistinguishable from staging an attack to damage, disrupt or destroy it.” [6]

This story comes during a wider debate about the militarization of space and whether a Space Force is necessary. Deborah Lee James, the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, does not believe the Space Force will be able to solve any of the issues that the Air Force had in the management of space. [7] In regard to the management of space issues, James stated that “1) there is not enough money being dedicated; 2) there is a slow acquisitions process; 3) many of the people face limited paths to excel in their space-focused careers; and 4) there is an overall lack of warfighting focus.” [8] Contrarily, Terry Virts, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former astronaut, believes that a Space Force is necessary now that “space as a domain is now mature enough to stand alone.” [9] Virts commented that the Space Force does not militarize space because the space domain has been militarized since “the 1950s when the Soviet army launched Sputnik and the U.S. Navy launched Vanguard.” [10]

There is no doubt that the U.S. has significant assets in space, which is why the debate is not about whether we should protect these assets, but whether the Space Force is the best way to achieve that protection. Because of Russia’s concerning actions in the past few months, the argument that a greater military presence in space would be beneficial to the U.S. may hold more sway.

[1] W.J. Hennigan, Exclusive: Strange Russian Spacecraft Shadowing U.S. Spy Satellite, General Says, TIME (Feb. 10, 2020)


[2] Id.


[3] Id.


[4] Id.


[5] Bryan Pietsch, 2 Russian spacecraft are trailing a US spy satellite and could create a dangerous situation in space, Bus. Insider (Feb. 10, 2020)


[6] Hennigan, supra note 1.


[7] Ian Livingston, Experts offer their views on creating a Space Force, Brookings Inst. (Aug. 10, 2018)


[8] Id.


[9] Terry Virts, I was an astronaut. We need a Space Force., Wash. Post (Aug. 23, 2018)


[10] Id.


[11] US Military GPS, Army Tech., (last visited Feb. 23, 2020).



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