A potentially dangerous back-and-forth has begun.

white house says us would respond if russia targets commercial satellites
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby speaks during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House on Oct. 26, 2022 (Image credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The White House has responded to Russia’s assertion that commercial satellites are legitimate targets by stating that a U.S. response would follow any such attacks.

During a press gathering with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday (Oct. 27), White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that “any attack on U.S. infrastructure will be met with a response […] in a time and manner of our choosing,” according to a White House transcript (opens in new tab). “We will pursue all means to explore, deter, and hold Russia accountable for any such attacks,” Jean-Pierre continued. “Clearly, I’m not going to lay them down here in front of — in public. But we have made ourselves very clear.”

The White House’s statement comes after Russian officials have stated for months that commercial satellites operated by U.S. companies would be “legitimate targets” in the event of an armed conflict. A Russian delegation to the United Nations’ open-ended working group (OEWG) on reducing space threats first made those statements in September, and reiterated them on Thursday, according to Reuters (opens in new tab).

The back-and-forth between Russia and the United States over the targeting of commercial satellites follows the widespread use of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation throughout Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In the days following Russia’s initial invasion in February, Starlink terminals arrived in Russia. The satellites have been pivotal in keeping Ukrainian military and government communications intact in the face of Russian attacks on civil infrastructure.

In response, Russian officials made a statement (opens in new tab) in September claiming that this use of Starlink is “an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the events in Ukraine.”

“At the very least,” the statement continued, “this provocative use of civilian satellites is questionable under the Outer Space Treaty, which provides for the exclusively peaceful use of outer space, and must be strongly condemned by the international community.”

It’s not just Russia that has made threats against U.S. commercial satellites. A report (opens in new tab) published by the South China Morning Post on Oct. 20 describes research published by the Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology, a facility run by China’s People’s Liberation Army, that describes how China could use nuclear weapons to cripple satellite constellations in orbit. A similar Chinese report published in May specifically describes how attacks could target Starlink satellites (opens in new tab).

The Pentagon held a classified briefing in September to discuss the threats Russian and Chinese space weapons pose to U.S. satellites in orbit.

Follow Brett on Twitter at @bretttingley. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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