Why Russia's New Anti-Satellite Plane Is Very Bad Idea

Michael Peck

Key point: Satellites are needed to help target nuclear weapons and so attacking them might look like part of a surprise nuclear strike.

Russia says it is developing a new aircraft that can disable the electronics on U.S. satellites.

Could this new development trigger a nuclear war?

The electronic warfare aircraft “will be capable of turning off the electronics installed on military satellites,” according to Russia’s Sputnik News. The conceptual work has been completed and design and development will begin soon.

“The work is currently underway to develop an aircraft equipped with jamming systems that will replace Il-22PP Porubshchik [electronic warfare aircraft], which are currently being delivered to the Russian Aerospace Forces,” an unnamed Russian defense industry source told Sputnik News. “This machine will receive a fundamentally new on-board equipment, which will allow to conduct electronic suppression of any targets—ground, air, sea—and disable enemy satellites that provide navigation and radio communication on the ground.”

Russia currently operates three electronic warfare aircraft based on the Ilyushin Il-22, according to Sputnik News. The Il-22PP versions are variants of the Il-22 (NATO code name Coot B) airborne command post, which is itself derived from the Il-18 airliner, which first flew in the 1950s.

The Il-22PP was first flown publicly in 2016. The aircraft, described as an “escort jammer” to support other aircraft, was intended to disrupt radars, surface-to-air and cruise-missile guidance systems, and tactical data networks such as Link 16.

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