Russian Military Space Capabilities

Russia has a number of military aspects to its space program which are detailed in the featured section of this report by the Federation of American Scientists. Find the full version here:

"Russia is one of the few countries that maintain extensive space industry and carry on a number of military-related space programs. In many aspects the Russian civilian and military space program is comparable to that of the United States,

although sometimes in intent rather than in actual capabilities. In any event, the expertise that the Russian space program has makes it a very important player in any future space-related developments.

It should be noted, however, that the existing Russian capabilities in space should be assessed with caution, since the core of the existing Russian space program was developed during the Soviet times. Although Russia has managed to maintain some parts of the Soviet program successfully, some have been neglected, so not everything that existed in the Soviet Union still exists today. Some important components of the industrial and organizational infrastructure are no longer capable of supporting development of space systems.

This article gives an overview of military-related Russian space programs from the point of view of their ability to contribute to developments of space-based weapons or space-based systems that are usually considered in the context of

weaponization of space.

Anti-satellite systems

The Soviet Union was the only country that developed and operationally deployed an anti-satellites system (ASAT), designed to attack satellites on low Earth orbits (LEO). The United States also worked on its own ASAT systems during the

cold war, but abandoned its projects on the early stages of development.


On the military side, the anti-satellite research and development programs were managed by the Air Defense Forces, which used to be a separate service in the Soviet armed forces. This service, however, was disbanded during the military reform of 1997. The units that supported operations of missile defense and anti- satellite systems, space surveillance and early warning networks were subordinated to the Strategic Rocket Forces. In 2000, however, these systems were removed

from the Strategic Rocket Forces and brought under command of a new branch of armed forces-Space Forces. The status of this new branch within the armed forces, however, makes it difficult for it to initiate any major research and development effort.

The changes in the defense industry have been much more serious. While Russia has managed to keep most of its space industry intact, this does not apply to the companies that were involved in the development of anti-satellite systems.

In the Soviet Union, that development was managed by the Ministry of Radio Industry, not by the Ministry of General Machine Building, which was responsible for the space program. In the early 1990s, as old Soviet defense ministries were being abolished, the key space industry enterprises were transferred to the Russian Space Agency (now Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviakosmos),which helped them maintain their viability. The Ministry of Radio Industry enterprises and design bureaus were moved to the Ministry of Economics together with other defense companies and have been largely neglected. As a result of these transformations, Russia now does not have an agency that would be capable of supporting development program in the area of anti-satellite systems or space-based weapons.


Imaging satellites

Russia is operating several types of photo-reconnaissance satellites, which vary in their capabilities and missions-from wide area cartography to detailed hotography of specific areas of interest. Most of these satellites operate on low or-

bits with apogees from 170 to 350 km and use film to deliver images to the ground.

Earlier versions of photo-reconnaissance satellites had to reenter to deliver their images, which limited their lifetime and made timely transmission of data impossible. More recent satellites are equipped with multiple reentry capsules that are used to deliver exposed film.


Signal intelligence

Another space-based system with considerable military applications that has been supported in working conditions in the recent years is the ocean reconnaissance system, known as EORSAT or US-PM (another ocean reconnaissance system, RORSAT, which involved nuclear-powered satellites, was discontinued in 1988). The EORSAT system includes satellites that can track naval vessels based on their radio communications, radar emissions etc. The satellites are deployed on circular orbits with altitudes of about 400 km. Full constellation seems to include three or four satellites. Until 1997 Russia had been launching one or two satellites of this type every year, but after 1997 there was only one launch in 2001.


Navigation satellites

There are two major military navigation systems that are currently in use in Russia. The first one is known as Tsiklon or Parus, includes satellites on circular orbits with altitudes of about 1000 km. The accuracy provided by this system is about 100 m. This system was initially developed as a military system, but later was widely used for navigation by the Soviet (and now Russian) civilian ships. In the recent years Russia has been launching about one satellite a year, which was

probably enough to keep the system operational, although maybe in the minimum configuration.

Another navigation system, known as Glonass or Uragan, is the Soviet/Russian analog of the U.S. Navstar/GPS system. Like its U.S. counterpart, it includes satellites deployed on semi-synchronous circular orbits with altitudes of 20000 km. There are also differences in configuration-the Russian system includes 24 satellite deployed in three orbital planes (as opposed to four orbital planes for GPS). The accuracy provided by the Glonass system is comparable to that of GPS."

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