Mystery Russian projectile raises fears of arms race in space

In this May 6, 2020, file photo Chief of Space Operations at US Space Force Gen. John Raymond testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)
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Updated 25 July 2020

Mystery Russian projectile raises fears of arms race in space

WASHINGTON: The United States this week accused Russia of having tested an anti-satellite weapon in space, a charge Moscow has denied, saying the device was a “special instrument” for inspecting orbiting Russian equipment.
Whatever it was, the incident marks for Washington a rare military escalation in space.
The ability of one satellite to attack another was until now merely theoretical.
The United States, Russia, China and, since 2019, India, have been able to target satellites with Earth-launched projectiles, but these explosions create millions of pieces of debris in orbit, prompting the world powers to refrain from such tests.
This week’s incident may be seen as a message to Washington, which under President Donald Trump is building up a new “Space Force” wing of its military.
Space Force’s commander, General Jay Raymond, on Friday reiterated that “space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea.”
In November 2019, Russia launched a satellite named Cosmos 2542. A week later, that satellite surprised observers when it released a sub-satellite, Cosmos 2543, capable of maneuvering in orbit to observe, inspect or spy on other satellites.
This sub-satellite moved close to a US spy satellite, USA-245, and to another Russian satellite. A game of cat and mouse began in orbit, easily observable from Earth by astronomers and the US military, which publicly expressed its concern.
On July 15 at around 0750 GMT, Cosmos 2543 (the sub-satellite with a surface area of less than a square meter, according to the US military), released an object at a high relative speed, around 200 meters per second, said astronomer Jonathan McDowell.
Dubbed “Object E” by the United States, it is still in orbit and appears not to have hit anything. Its size, shape and purpose remain a mystery, but that does nothing to diminish the threat it may pose.
In orbit, satellites speed through the void at tens of thousands of miles per hour. The smallest contact with another object risks smashing a hole in its solar panels or damaging or even destroying it, depending on the size of whatever it may hit.
In space, the difference between a satellite and a weapon is therefore theoretical: whatever its function, “Object E” is a de facto “projectile” and therefore a “weapon,” the US says.
It is the equivalent of a “bullet” in space, said Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.
“There’s no such thing as a fender bender up there.”
Moscow has implicitly admitted as much by accusing Washington and London of having satellite inspection or repair programs that can be used as “counter-satellite weapons.”
The United States has maneuverable military satellites in orbit which can launch smaller satellites.
But it’s unclear if the US has the capability to launch high-speed projectiles as the Russians have just done, said Brian Weeden, a space security expert at the Secure World Foundation in Washington.
“But they probably could if they wanted to,” he told AFP.
“Russia may be trying to send a strategic message about the vulnerability of US systems,” Weeden said. Spy satellites are enormous, extremely costly and rare.
Russia is far less dependent upon satellites than the United States, and its satellites are much less expensive, he said.
That was echoed by the Space Force commander on Friday, who noted that ever since the Gulf War in the early 1990s, the entire US military, from war planes to infantry, depend on space-based technology for navigation, communications and intelligence.
“There’s nothing we do... that doesn’t have space enabled in it every step of the way,” the general said.
The United States and Russia will have the chance to hold direct talks next week in Vienna, during their first meeting on space security since 2013.


Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.