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Russia Tests PL-19 Nudol Direct-Ascent ASAT System

A computer generated image of the Russian Nudol Antisatellite missile and TEL. Image courtesy of Plymouth University.

Russia reportedly tested its A-235 PL-19 Nudol direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) weapon system on 15 April 2020, according to U.S. Space Command and independent observers.

The test reportedly took place at 15:00hrs UTC when the DA-ASAT was launched from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia. Independent observers believe that the Nudol DA-ASAT interceptor missile carried a dummy kill vehicle that did not hit any objects in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The dummy kill vehicle is believed to have splashed down in the Laptev Sea in the Arctic Ocean.

It is thought that the Nudol has a maximum altitude of 1,500 kilometres. This means that it can potentially hit satellites in LEO orbiting up to that altitude. At present most satellites in LEO that would warrant targeting by Russia in the event of conflict are Earth observation satellites – to include military and intelligence reconnaissance satellites.

While the Russians began testing the Nudol in 2005, the current variant believed to be in use began testing in 2014. This variant of the Nudol uses a Don-2N radar for tracking the target satellite. The Nudol is manufactured by Russian aerospace company VKO Almaz-Antey. It is not known when – or whether – the Nudol system will be declared operational.

The United States responded swiftly to the Nudol test, with General John ‘Jay’ Raymond, the commander of U.S. Space Command and the Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, condemning Russia using blunt language.

“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing. The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space,” said General Raymond. “This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs.”

As of publication time, the Russian government had not commented on the intent, rationale, and results of the Nudol DA-ASAT test.

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