Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed last week to have put its first military satellite into orbit, revealing in the process a secret space program that fuels already-escalating tensions between the U.S. and Tehran.
The launch followed an April 15 incident in which nearly a dozen Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels harassed six U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, an action that prompted President Donald Trump to tweet instructions for the “United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
Iranian state TV claimed the launch, which used a “Messenger” satellite carrier to put the device into space, was a resounding success, boasting that the satellite orbited the Earth within 90 minutes.
“Today, the world’s powerful armies do not have a comprehensive defense plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that takes us into space and expands the realm of our abilities is a strategic achievement,” Iran Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami said following the launch.
Reaction by U.S. officials, meanwhile, was swift, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for Iran to be “be held accountable for what it’s done.”
Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten acknowledged that the satellite “went a very long way,” but could not confirm whether the satellite was orbiting the Earth and providing reliable imagery.
The mystery of the satellite’s operational capability was potentially solved Saturday when Space Force Gen. Jay Raymond, the recently appointed commander of the military’s sixth branch — the subject of a spoof Netflix sitcom starring Steve Carell — took to Twitter to scoff at the proclamations coming out of Tehran.
According to Raymond, U.S. Space Command — personnel from Peterson Air Force Base and the 18th Space Control Squadron — were tracking two separate objects associated with the Iranian satellite launch.
“Iran states it has imaging capabilities — actually, it’s a tumbling webcam in space” that is unlikely providing anything resembling valuable intelligence, Raymond wrote.
The chief of space operations then layered the icing on the troll job with the hashtag #spaceishard.
Raymond told Military Times in March that the reassignment of nearly 16,000 Air Force personnel — including the Air Force Space Command’s top enlisted airmen — to the ranks of the new branch was being stalled by social distancing guidelines put in place in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Master Sgt. Roger Trowberman was officially sworn in on April 3 as Space Force’s first enlisted service member.
Until coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted on additional personnel, however, it would appear that throwing devastating space-related haymakers on Twitter will be the responsibility of the service’s top man.
At least in space no one can hear Raymond’s enemies scream.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.