Space wars: Why you need to know about PL-19 Nudol - the Russian satellite destroying missile

  • Russia tested its PL-19 Nudol anti-satellite (ASAT) direct-ascent missile on April 15

  • This is the eighth test that Russia has carried out its anti-satellite weapon

  • The test did not involve a live orbital target

While the world was busy fighting the coronavirus, Russia for the eighth time tested PL 19 Nudol, an anti-ballistic missile interceptor that also functions as an anti-satellite weapon.

With this latest test, Russia has spooked both US and China that are currently busy managing the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands in both the countries.

"Russia's DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to the US and allied space systems are real, serious and growing," Space Command's chief General Jay Raymond told The Diplomat.


In the space arms competition the United States, Russia, and China have been competing with each other in developing space-based missiles that can not only destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase but can also target satellites in orbit.

Russia tested the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile system on April 15, according to the Russian Strategic Forces Blog. The test did not involve a live orbital target and the missile traveled 3,000 kilometers before ascending into the Laptev Sea.

According to Jane's, the Russians used the Nudol system, which uses a launch off a transporter-erector-launcher vehicle, which is capable of intercepting satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO).

US-Russia Space Wars

US has always been wary of the Russian PL-19 Nudol, so much so that the Russian missile system had found a mention in President Trump's 2019 Missile Defense Review that listed it as a threat that justified US policy on increasing its missile capabilities.

But there is more as now, US officials have raised concerns about even the Russian co-orbital ASAT weapons, which have a special capability to change their orbits and can approach adversary satellites.

Russian authorities, however, have played down the US criticisms as mere "distractions." Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a statement hit out against the Americans saying that the US military's statements accusing Russia of testing an anti-satellite missile are nothing more than an attempt to distract the world from the reality that America itself is placing weapons in space.