Russian and Chinese Responses to U.S. Military Plans in Space

Chapter 1: Russia and Military Uses of Space

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Pavel Podvig and Hui Zhang
Reconsidering the Rules of Space

Pavel Podvig

Russia is one of the few countries to carry out a full range of activities in space. The Russian government supports a number of space programs, from manned flights to civilian and military communication, navigation, and satellite-imagery systems. Russia has at its disposal launchers and launch facilities that can deliver a range of payloads to almost any orbit. These capabilities make Russia an important actor in all developments related to military uses of space, especially those related to the weaponization of space.

Russia also has an important role in the future development of space because it remains a nuclear state with sizable offensive strategic nuclear forces. Although the relationship between Russia and the United States—as well as the other nuclear states—no longer has the adversarial nature that characterized it during the cold war, an expansion of U.S. military capabilities in space might affect Russia’s security calculations and force its government to take measures that would protect Russia’s strategic status vis-à-vis the United States.

Russia is capable of carrying out its own military space program. Despite the setbacks of the last decade, during which all Russian military programs suffered due to lack of adequate funding, recent steps of the Russian leadership indicate their intention to expand the military space program. Although it is not clear whether Russia could maintain its military presence in space so as to successfully compete with the United States, an expansion of the military space program would be an important benchmark and would certainly affect U.S. military policies.

All of these factors would certainly come into play if the United States decided to proceed with development and operational deployment of space-based weapon systems. There is little doubt that Russia would be compelled to respond. The exact nature of the response, however, is much less clear. On one hand, the factors described above give some reason to believe that Russia has the capability to mount a strong and potentially destabilizing response to U.S. space-weapon programs. On the other hand, recent history suggests that Russia’s reaction might be quite restrained, as it was when the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Several factors will determine Russia’s response: the overall context of the U.S.-Russian relationship, which will guide Russia’s evaluation of the threat that U.S. programs pose to its security; its calculation of the kind of response warranted; and the ability of the Russian military and military industry to undertake the measures required for such a response.


Russian military leaders and civilian experts have closely analyzed discussions within the United States about military uses of space, as well as the doctrinal documents of the U.S. military. These analyses have heightened concern in Russia about the effects that the development of space-based military systems might have on the U.S.-Russian military balance. Russians see the development of military space systems by the United States as evidence of a growing gap between military capabilities of the two countries. This gap challenges the condition of strategic parity that Russia still believes to be the underlying principle of its relationship with the United States.1

Before considering specific issues that have drawn the attention of the Russian military, I should note that, at this moment, the issues in question are primarily U.S. research projects on the military use of space and not development or deployment programs. Although some U.S. research projects are very ambitious, there are no specific plans for the United States to deploy weapon systems in space. This uncertainty about the actual plans of the U.S. military gives observers in Russia (as well as elsewhere) room for a wide range of expectations and encourages the consideration of worst-case scenarios.

Russia’s reaction to the potential weaponization of space should also be considered in the context of the current U.S.-Russian strategic relationship. From the Russian perspective, the current situation is one of strategic parity, where the United States is unlikely to be able to gain unilateral military advantage that would undermine the retaliatory potential of the Russian strategic forces. It is usually assumed that various technological developments would have the potential to jeopardize the existing strategic balance. Until recently, missile defense dominated the discussion in Russia on technological developments of this kind. Now the emphasis has shifted, and although missile defense still figures prominently, it is usually considered just one of many potentially destabilizing U.S. programs. As with missile defense, it is widely believed that deployment of weapons in space will open a way for the balance currently secured by the offensive strategic forces to be undermined.2

Specific conflict scenarios, considered in the context of space weaponization, can be categorized according to the goals of a conflict and the role that space-based systems could play. Given the very important status that Russia assigns to its strategic nuclear forces, the developments it considers most threatening usually involve an attack intended to undermine Russia’s retaliatory potential. This includes direct attacks on launchers, command and control centers, communication links, and other components of the strategic infrastructure.3 However, because it is recognized that the probability of a targeted attack on nuclear forces is essentially zero, analyses of potential threats often consider other possibilities that are believed to be more likely. One scenario of this kind would include a standoff strike with conventional weapons. The strike would attack civilian and military infrastructure, not targeting strategic nuclear forces directly but nevertheless making nuclear retaliatory strike impossible.4

Most Russian writings on this subject accept that military systems deployed in space would play a key role in any future conflict, regardless of the specific scenario. The most alarmist view, expressed by some Russian analysts, is that space will be used for the deployment of “strike weapons” able to attack targets on the ground. According to this view, space would give a decisive advantage to an attacker, allowing an adversary to launch a highly coordinated attack on Russia’s strategic forces.5 It should be noted that in this context, missile-defense systems are usually considered an important component of the “space strike” force even though they may not have space-based components. It is assumed that missile-defense systems would operate in coordination with the strike force to further weaken Russia’s retaliatory potential.

Although “space strike” weapons have a prominent place in the ongoing discussion in Russia about the military use of space, attention is also paid to the systems that support military operations on the ground. The most important of these are the systems that provide the reconnaissance, targeting, and navigation information that allow an attack to be conducted from a distance and to use flexible and accurate targeting. The Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system and optical and electronic reconnaissance and communication satellites are among the currently deployed systems of this kind. It is correctly assumed that the number of these systems will grow with improvements in their technical characteristics and with their increased ability to operate as part of an extensive and well-coordinated network. A capability of this kind would introduce new uses of military force, and it is not yet understood how these would affect Russia’s reliance on the strategic nuclear force that exists today. The resulting uncertainty is one of the reasons the Russian military is wary of the continued militarization of space, as it is unclear if Russia would be able to deal with the new situation.

Assessment of the threats that space-based military systems might pose is only one part of the discussion of this subject within the Russian military. The discussion also addresses the question of how to respond to these threats and how the Russian military should adapt to the growing role of space systems in military operations.

Because the threat is seen largely as a threat to strategic assets—strategic forces, command and control systems, and key objects of the civilian and military infrastructure—responses are inevitably discussed through the frame of strategic-defense options. This approach draws heavily on the Soviet tradition of considering strategic defense as a distinct mission; until a reform in 1997, this mission was assigned to Air Defense Forces, a separate service within the Soviet and later the Russian military.

A series of reforms in recent years subordinated the air-defense component of the service to the Air Forces and transferred space-related branches— early-warning systems, space surveillance, and missile defense—to the Space Forces. This transformation remains a contentious point in Russia, and many analysts argue that defense in airspace and in outer space should be considered together and advocate an organizational reform that would facilitate integration between various defense systems.6 Defense officials express the point of view that although integration is indeed essential, it does not necessarily require further organizational changes.7

The degree to which defending airspace and defending outer space are considered to be part of a single mission varies, but most experts agree that defenses are, at the very least, united by the strategic nature of any threat that they would have to counter. As a result, some strong parallels between air and space defense are drawn, and it is in this context that experts most often mention the need to counter space-based assets of the attacker.8 In discussions of this possibility, little distinction is made between “strike weapons” in space and support systems like navigation or communication. This is understandable, as all these systems are assumed to be highly integrated.9

Overall, although its leaders rarely spell out the belief explicitly, the Russian military seems to accept the view that anti-satellite systems may have a legitimate role in future conflicts. Characteristically, while advancing a diplomatic initiative to ban space-based weapon systems, Russia also underscores that anti-satellite systems not based in space should be excluded from this ban.10 However, Russia has no specific plans for anti-satellites systems.

To summarize, discussion in Russia of the weaponization of space and related issues recognizes the increasing role of space-based systems in military operations. This development is usually considered a threat, mainly because it has the potential to undermine the existing strategic balance and weaken Russia’s status as a major power. However, because this threat has not yet materialized, Russia’s response is discussed only in very general terms. On the balance, the prevailing view in Russia is that there is more to lose than gain from the weaponization of space, and so the official Russian position opposes the development and deployment of space-based weapons.

This does not mean that Russia opposes any military use of space. On the contrary, military and political leaders emphasize the importance of developing systems that would support military operations from space—navigation, communication, and reconnaissance.11 Deployment of these systems would eventually require a means of protecting them, which could in theory bring Russia to reconsider its current opposition to space weapons.12

To understand whether Russia could indeed change its position on the weaponization of space, we need to go beyond official statements and discussion among Russian military experts. The course of the military space program in Russia will be determined primarily by the availability of the resources required to support the program and by the ability of the industry and the military to manage development projects for the military use of space.


Virtually all active Russian military space programs were initiated in the Soviet Union. Even in cases where the first launch was conducted after the breakup of the Soviet Union, research and development had been largely completed before that time. During the 1990s, the primary challenges that Russia faced were to preserve the military programs that it had inherited and to prevent deterioration of the infrastructure that supported space operations. To a certain degree, Russia has been successful in meeting these challenges, managing to keep most of its military space systems in operation. However, as discussed below, in most cases the systems in question have operated at a level that does not provide full operational capability and have relied on equipment manufactured before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

As part of its extensive space program, the Soviet Union developed and deployed military space-based systems in virtually all categories—from missile early warning to reconnaissance, from communication to satellite navigation. The extent to which these systems are supported today indicates in part the priorities of the Russian armed forces, although one must take into account that, in reality, support depends on a number of factors, including the real operational needs of the armed forces, the ability to manufacture spacecraft and launchers in Russia, and the interests of the space industry. These factors make determining the priorities of the armed forces more difficult, but still allow conclusions to be drawn about the direction of development in the Russian military space program.

As of 2007, Russia maintained active military space programs in five areas—early warning, optical reconnaissance, communication, navigation, and signal intelligence.

Early-Warning Satellites

Sensors deployed in space are traditionally considered a vital component of an early-warning system if the system is to provide timely warning of a missile attack. Because sensors in space can be made capable of detecting ballistic missiles almost immediately after launch, these sensors can provide the maximum possible warning time—up to 30 minutes in the case of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Soviet Union began development of its space-based early-warning system in 1971 and was able to deploy it by 1982.13 Early-warning satellites complement a network of radar stations deployed along the periphery of the Soviet territory.

In its full configuration, the space-based early-warning system, known as Oko or US-KS, consists of up to nine satellites on highly elliptical orbits (HEO) and one satellite on a geostationary orbit (GEO). This configuration allows continuous coverage of ICBM bases on U.S. territory. Submarine patrol areas in the ocean are not covered by this system, so it cannot detect launches of sea-based ballistic missiles.

To maintain continuous coverage of U.S. ICBM bases, the system needs at least four satellites on HEO. Filling all nine HEO slots in the constellation and adding a GEO satellite increases the reliability of launch detection, but does not extend coverage in a substantial way.14 Until the mid-1990s, Russia managed to maintain the Oko system in almost full capacity and had the capability to reliably detect launches of U.S. land-based missiles. This required about three launches per year to replenish the constellation. Russia was able to conduct these launches despite the serious financial difficulties of that period. The capabilities of the system began deteriorating between 1997 and 1998, after a series of malfunctions caused premature termination of the operations of some deployed satellites. By the end of 1999, the system had been reduced to the minimum level of four satellites on HEOs.

Table 1: Recent Launches of Early-Warning Satellites

End of
Cosmos-2345 24894 08/14/97 3.6 35118 36466 02/1999 GEO
Cosmos-2351 25327 05/07/98 64.6 3210 37200 05/2001 HEO
Cosmos-2368 26042 12/27/99 63.1 2394 37977 12/2002 HEO
Cosmos-2388 27409 04/02/02 64.3 490 39842 11/2006 HEO
Cosmos-2393 27613 12/24/02 63.0 879 39454 02/2007 HEO
Cosmos-2422 29260 07/21/06 62.9 860 39000 Active HEO
Cosmos-2430 32268 10/23/07 63.0 560 39200 Active HEO
Cosmos-2350 25315 04/29/98 2.1 35758 35808 06/1998 GEO
Cosmos-2379 26892 08/24/01 0.6 35770 35804 Active GEO, 12E
Cosmos-2397 27775 04/24/03 2.0 35545 35908 05/2003 GEO

The system suffered a further setback in May 2001, when a fire destroyed its command and control center at Serpukhov-15 near Moscow. As a result of the fire, Russia lost control over all four deployed satellites and for about four months did not have the ability to detect missile launches from space.15 All four satellites were eventually lost and have been replaced by two HEO satellites, Cosmos-2388 and Cosmos-2393, and one GEO satellite, Cosmos-2379. Since the end of 2002 until 2006, the system has operated in this configuration, which theoretically allows continuous coverage of U.S. ICBM fields, albeit with reduced reliability. In 2006 and 2007, two new satellites, Cosmos-2422 and Cosmos-2430, joined the constellation, and two others—Cosmos-2388 and Cosmos-2393—ended their operations.

Because the capabilities of the Oko/US-KS do not allow it to detect launches from areas other than continental United States, the Soviet Union began development of a new generation of early-warning satellites in the 1980s. The new satellites were to be capable of detecting missiles against a background of Earth’s cloud cover and were to be deployed both on highly elliptical and geostationary orbits. This system was designated US-KMO.

The first early-warning satellite of the new generation was launched in 1991. By 2006, there had been six USKMO satellite launches; the last was Cosmos-2397, launched in April 2003.16 Only one of these satellites— Cosmos-2379—is operational today. The program has been plagued by satellite malfunctioning, which significiantly shortened satellites’ lifetimes. For example, all but one of the USKMO system launched since 1994 ended their operations prematurely.17

Russia is currently working on a new space-based early-warning system, known as EKS. Flight tests of satellites of the new system are expected to begin in 2009.18

Optical Reconnaissance

Russia operates at least six different types of optical reconnaissance satellites, which vary in their capabilities and missions from wide-area cartography to detailed photography of specific areas of interest. As it is the case with other systems, photoreconnaissance programs can be divided into legacy programs that continue from the Soviet era and newer programs activated after 1992.

The older programs, which still constitute the core of Russia’s imaging capability, are systems of the Yantar family. Three types of satellites are known as Yantar: Yantar-4KS2 Kobalt, Yantar-4KS1 Neman, and Yantar-1KFT Kometa. Although the spacecraft are quite different in their missions and capabilities, they share design features as they were built around a common platform.

Yantar-4KS2 Kobalt is a photo-reconnaissance satellite that produces detailed imaging. It carries a camera and two capsules that allow it to return exposed film to the earth during the mission. At the end of a flight, the spacecraft itself is returned to the ground, acting as a third reentry capsule. The flight time of a spacecraft of this type is typically about 60 days, so the film is returned at about 20-day intervals. Kobalt satellites have been deployed in low-earth orbit, with an inclination of about 67 degrees and perigee and apogee of about 170 km and 350 km respectively.

During the 1980s, when the Yantar-4KS2 Kobalt was the primary Soviet reconnaissance satellite, the Soviet Union launched up to nine satellites of this type annually to provide timely imaging data. As a rule, there was at least one spacecraft of this type in orbit at any given time. By the end of 1990s, the launch rate had dropped to one satellite every one or two years, and Russia could no longer constantly keep an operational satellite in orbit, even though duration of the mission was almost doubled to reach about four months.

As part of the Kobalt program, in 2004 the Space Forces launched the Cosmos-2410 satellite, which was described as a reconnaissance satellite of a new generation, Kobalt-M. The mission was not entirely successful—the spacecraft completed its mission prematurely and was not recovered after reentry. Nevertheless, the problems with the satellite appear to have been relatively minor and the Space Forces announced plans to begin regular launches of Kobalt-M satellites after 2006.19 The second launch took place in May 2006, and the third in June 2007.

One of the most serious drawbacks of film-based reconnaissance satellites is their inability to provide immediate data and their limited life span, which is determined by the amount of film a satellite can carry on board. Photo-electronic reconnaissance satellites have a clear advantage in these areas. Soviet satellites of this type, which are known as Yantar-4KS1 Neman, transmit imaging information electronically, using geostationary relay satellites when necessary.

Regular launches of Neman satellites began in 1984. A mission would usually last from six to eight months, after which the satellite would reenter the atmosphere. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union launched one or two Neman satellites each year, to have at least one operational spacecraft in orbit. The situation changed in the late 1990s; after 1995, there were only two launches of Neman satellites—one in 1998 and one in 2000.

The third system of the Yantar family includes the Yantar-1KFT Kometa topographic imaging satellites. These film-based satellites provide wide-area imaging data for military as well as civilian purposes. These satellites began operations in the early 1980s and were launched at a rate of about one satellite annually, with nominal mission duration of about 45 days.

Table 2: Recent Launches of Optical Reconnaissance Satellites

End of
Yantar-4KS2 Kobalt
Cosmos-2348 25095 12/15/97 67.1 176 370 04/14/98
Cosmos-2358 25373 06/24/98 67.1 167 334 10/22/98
Cosmos-2365 25889 08/18/99 67.1 166 342 12/15/99
Cosmos-2377 26775 05/29/01 67.1 176 382 10/10/01
Cosmos-2387 27382 02/25/02 67.1 176 369 06/27/02
Cosmos-2410 28396 09/24/04 67.1 175 368 01/09/05
Cosmos-2420 29111 05/03/06 67.1 180 360 07/19/06
Cosmos-2427 31595 06/07/07 67.1 180 360 08/23/07
Yantar-4KS1 Neman
Cosmos-2359 25376 06/25/98 64.9 240 302 07/12/99
Cosmos-2370 26354 05/03/00 64.8 240 300 05/04/01
Yantar-1KFT Kometa
Cosmos-2349 25167 02/17/98 70.4 228 286 04/02/98
Cosmos-2373 26552 09/29/00 70.4 265 285 11/13/00
Cosmos-2415 28841 09/02/05 64.8 207 307 10/16/05
Orlets-1 Don
Cosmos-2399 27856 08/12/03 64.9 205 326 11/24/03
Cosmos-2423 29402 09/14/06 64.9 175 340 11/14/06
Orlets-2 Yenisey
Cosmos-2372 26538 09/25/00 64.8 201 313 04/20/01
Cosmos-2344 24827 06/06/97 63.4 1509 2748 10/1997
Cosmos-2392 27470 07/25/02 63.5 1507 1834 07/2003

In addition to the Yantar systems described above, Russia is developing at least three other photoreconnaissance satellite systems. Two of them use film-based satellites—Orlets-1 Don and Orlets-2 Yenisey—and the other is based on an electronic reconnaissance satellite, Arkon.

The distinguishing feature of Orlets-1 and Orlets-2 is the increased number of film capsules that can be returned to the ground during the satellite’s mission. Orlets-1 has eight capsules and Orlets-2 is reported to have 22. In addition, it is likely that the satellites’ optics systems allow them to take images at a higher resolution than that achieved by the satellites of previous generations. Because the satellites rely on film for recording images, their lifespan is relatively short—from 40 to 60 days.

Orlets-1 is an older program; satellites of this type have been in operation since 1989. From 1989 to 1993, these satellites were launched annually, but after that there were only three launches, in 1997, 2003, and 2006. Cosmos-2423 was the last satellite of this type.

Although the Orlets-2 program began in the late 1980s, the first launch of a satellite of this type was conducted in 1994. That first flight, of Cosmos-2290, lasted for more than seven months and appeared to be of an experimental nature. The next launch was conducted in 2000. As of 2007, it remains the most recent launch of a satellite of this type. It appears that the Orlets-2 is still largely an experimental program. Don and Yenisey satellites will be replaced by satellites of a new type, known as Persona. Its first launch is expected in 2008.

Another optical reconnaissance program under development is known as Arkon. Development of this system began in the mid-1980s, but it was not before June 1996 that a satellite was ready for launch. The new satellite, Cosmos-2344, was deployed in a relatively high orbit, with perigee of about 1500 km and apogee of about 2700 km. This is unusual for imaging satellites, which tend to be deployed in lower orbits to get better spatial resolution. The Cosmos-2344 transmitted imaging information to the ground control center electronically, using geostationary relay satellites when necessary.

It is likely that one reason for the unusual choice of orbit was to facilitate an extension of the satellite’s lifetime, which at high altitudes would be unaffected by atmospheric drag. However, the actual lifetime of the satellites proved to be fairly short. The first satellite ceased operations only four months after launch because of a malfunction. The second—and so far the last— launch of Arkon was conducted in July 2002. That satellite functioned for over one year, after which it stopped operations, probably short of its intended operational lifespan.20

As this brief overview of the Russian optical reconnaissance programs suggests, Russia does not have the capability to maintain continuous coverage of the Earth with its satellites. Moreover, even if all its satellites were operational, Russia would have rather limited capability to obtain high-resolution imaging data in a timely manner. New systems intended to provide that capability still seem to be in experimental stages.

Naval Reconnaissance and Signal Intelligence

The Soviet Union invested considerable resources into development of a system that would provide the capability to detect ships at sea and direct missiles at them. The first version of this system began operating in the early 1970s. It included satellites of two types: passive signal intelligence satellites, known as US-P or EORSAT; and active radar surveillance satellites, US-A or RORSAT. While the system has been in operation, the satellites and their mission profiles have undergone a number of modifications. Operations of the active system, US-A, were discontinued in 1988, primarily due to concerns about the nuclear reactors used to power the satellite systems. A modified version of the US-P system, known as US-PU, is currently in operation.

The US-PU/EORSAT system includes satellites that can track surface ships by detecting their radio communications, radar emissions, etc. A full constellation of these satellites includes three or four spacecraft deployed on circular orbits with altitudes of about 400 km. A US-PU satellite usually stays in orbit for about two years, after which it reenters the atmosphere. Until 1997, Russia launched one or two satellites of this type every year to keep the system operational. After 1997, however, the interval between launches increased to almost two years; as a result, there has been no more than one working satellite in orbit at any given time. the last launch of a satellite of this type—like US-PU, Tselina-2 satellites are expected to be replaced by the new Liana system. The first satellite of the new type is expected to be launched in 2008.

Table 3: Recent Launches of Signal Intelligence Satellites

End of
Cosmos-2347 25088 12/09/97 65 410 410 11/19/99
Cosmos-2367 26040 12/26/99 65 404 418 07/19/02
Cosmos-2383 27053 12/21/01 65 410 410 03/20/04
Cosmos-2405 28350 05/28/04 65 412 427 04/20/06
Cosmos-2421 29247 06/25/06 65 409 430 Active
Cosmos-2333 24297 09/04/96 71 848 852
Cosmos-2360 25406 07/28/98 71 848 852
Cosmos-2369 26069 02/03/00 71 848 854
Cosmos-2406 28352 06/10/04 71 850 890
Cosmos-2428 31792 06/29/07 71 850 880

It was reported that the US-PU system would be discontinued, and Comos2383, which orbited from December 2001 to March 2004, was thought to be the last satellite of this type. However, the Space Forces launched two more satellites of the US-PU type after that. Still, the system is expected to be withdrawn from service and replaced by a newgeneration Liana system.

In addition to the US-P system, which was dedicated to the observation of electronic signatures of surface ships, the Soviet Union deployed a number of generalpurpose signal intelligence and electronic reconnaissance systems, all of the Tselina family. The first two generations of signal intelligence satellites, Tselina-O and Tselina-D, were in operation until 1984 and 1994 respectively. The system currently in operation is known as Tselina-2. Its development began in the mid-1970s and the first spacecraft of this type was launched in 1984.

Tselina-2 satellites are deployed in relatively high circular orbits (altitude about 850 km). A full Tselina-2 constellation consists of four satellites in four orbital planes. Until the mid-1990s, Russia managed to maintain an almost full constellation, but by early 2004 only one operational satellite remained in orbit. In June 2004, the Space Forces launched a new satellite of the Tselina-2 type, and one more satellite was launched in 2007. 2007 was reported to be

Table 4: Recent Launches of Navigation Satellites

End of
Cosmos-2361 25590 12/24/98 82.9 969 1013    
Cosmos-2366 25892 08/26/99 82.9 963 1013    
Cosmos-2378 26818 06/08/01 82.9 963 1010  
Cosmos-2389 27436 05/28/02 82.9 950 1017    
Cosmos-2398 27818 06/04/03 82.9 950 1017    
Cosmos-2407 28380 07/22/04 82.9 948 1004    
Cosmo-2414 28523 01/20/05 82.9 917 960    
Cosmo-2429 32052 09/11/07 83.0 970 1010    
Cosmos-2374 26566 10/13/00 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 783
Cosmo-2375 26564 10/13/00 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 787
Cosmo-2376 26565 10/13/00 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 788
Cosmo-2380 26989 12/01/01 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 790
Cosmos-2381 26988 12/01/01 64.8 19119 19128 Active Glonass 789
Cosmo-2382 29987 12/01/01 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 711
Cosmos-2394 27617 12/25/02 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 791
Cosmos-2395 27619 12/25/02 64.8 19119 19128 Active Glonass 792
Cosmos-2396 27618 12/25/02 64.8 19119 19128   Glonass 793
Cosmos-2402 28113 12/10/03 64.8 19137 19137   Glonass 794
Cosmos-2403 28114 12/10/03 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 795
Cosmos-2404 28112 12/10/03 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 701
Cosmos-2411 28509 12/26/04 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 712
Cosmos-2412 28510 12/26/04 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 797
Cosmos-2413 28508 12/26/04 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 796
Cosmos-2417 28917 12/25/05 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 798
Cosmos-2418 28916 12/25/05 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 713
Cosmos-2419 28915 12/25/05 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 714
Cosmos-2424 29672 12/25/06 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 715
Cosmos-2425 29670 12/25/06 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 716
Cosmos-2426 29671 12/25/06 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass 717
Cosmos-2431 32277 10/26/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass-718
Cosmos-2432 32276 10/26/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass-719
Cosmos-2433 32275 10/26/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass -720
Cosmos-24?? 32393 12/25/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass-72?
Cosmos-24?? 32394 12/25/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass-72?
Cosmos-24?? 32395 12/25/07 64.8 19137 19137 Active Glonass-72?

Navigation Satellites

Two major military navigation systems are currently in use in Russia. The first, known as Tsiklon or Parus, includes satellites in circular orbits with altitudes of about 1000 km. The system provides accuracy of about 100 m. Initially developed as a military system, the system was later widely used for navigation by Soviet (and now Russian) civilian ships. In recent years, Russia has launched about one satellite per year, which is probably enough to keep the system operational.

Another navigation system, known as Glonass, is the Soviet (now Russian) equivalent of the U.S. Navstar/GPS system. Like its U.S. counterpart, it includes satellites deployed in semisynchronous circular orbits with altitudes of 20,000 km. There are differences in configuration—the Russian system includes 24 satellites deployed in three orbital planes, as opposed to four orbital planes for GPS. The accuracy provided by the Glonass system, assuming that the full constellation is deployed, is comparable to that of GPS.

Deployment of Glonass satellites began in 1982, but the system did not reach initial operational capability until 1989. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the system suffered from mismanagement and inadequate funding. The Russian government tried several times to commercialize the system but was unsuccessful. As a result, although the system is in operation, the number of working satellites is rarely higher than ten. Consequently, the ability of the system to provide accurate navigation information is very limited. Development of the Glonass system is also held back by a lack of equipment that would allow the Russian military and civilian users to take advantage of the data supplied by the system.21

Despite these problems, Russia is determined to continue to operate the Glonass system and launches about three satellites per year to replenish the constellation. Russia is currently developing a new type of Glonass satellite, known as Glonass-M, which will have a longer lifespan and therefore will require fewer launches. The first Glosnass-M satellite was launched in December 2004. After the launches in 2007, 14 satellites in the constellation are of the Glonass-M type. Six more are expected to be launched in 2008. According to the current plans, Russia will complete deployment of the constellation of 24 satellites in 2008.

Communication Satellites

Three general categories of space-based communication systems are maintained by Russia—low Earth orbit relay satellites, satellites in HEO, and geostationary satellites. Although most of these systems were developed with military applications in mind, they or their modifications are also used for civilian purposes.

Table 5: Recent Launches of Military Communication Satellites

End of
Cosmos-2337 24725 02/14/97 82.6 1409 1409    
Cosmos-2338 24726 02/14/97 82.6 1409 1409    
Cosmos-2339 24727 02/14/97 82.6 1409 1409    
Cosmos-2352 25363 06/16/98 82.6 1300 1870    
Cosmos-2353 25364 06/16/98 82.6 1300 1870    
Cosmos-2354 25365 06/16/98 82.6 1300 1870    
Cosmos-2355 25366 06/16/98 82.6 1300 1870    
Cosmos-2356 25367 06/16/98 82.6 1300 1870    
Cosmos-2357 25368 06/16/98 82.5 1300 1447    
Cosmos-2384 27055 12/28/01 82.5 1415 1447    
Cosmos-2385 27056 12/28/01 82.5 1415 1447    
Cosmos-2386 27057 12/28/01 82.5 1415 1447    
Cosmos-2390 27464 07/08/02 82.5 1467 1507    
Cosmos-2391 27865 07/08/02 82.5 1467 1507    
Cosmos-2400 27868 08/19/03 82.5 1459 1502    
Cosmos-2401 27869 08/19/03 82.5 1466 1501    
Cosmos-2408 28419 09/23/04 82.5 1470 1517    
Cosmos-2409 28420 09/23/04 82.5 1475 1571    
Cosmos-2416 28909 12/21/05 82.5 1450 1470    
Molniya-1-90 24960 10/24/97 64.1 1117 39237    
Molniya-1-91 25485 09/28/98 64.0 988 39372    
Molniya-1-92 27707 04/19/03 63.3 586 39765    
Molniya-1-93 28163 02/18/04 62.9 791 39563    
Molniya-3.49 25379 07/01/98 62.8 466 40770    
Molniya-3.50 25847 07/08/99 62.5 472 40813    
Molniya-3.51 26867 07/02/01 62.7 255 40811    
Molniya-3.52 26970 10/25/01 62.9 646 40658    
Raduga 1-4 25642 02/28/99 3.6 35783 35787 11/2005 35E
Raduga 1-5 26477 08/28/00 1.2 35775 35792 Active 45E
Raduga 1-6 26936 10/06/01 0.4 35777 35795 03/2006 70E
Raduga 1-7 28194 03/27/04 1.2 35766 35804 Avtive 85E
Cosmos-2434 32373 12/09/07 1.0 35800 35800 Active 70E
Cosmos-2371 26394 07/05/00 1.3 35770 35806 Active 80E

The Strela-3 communication system, which includes satellites in low earth orbits, was developed for the military intelligence. The satellites work in storedump mode: they receive information as they pass over the sender and transmit it when they pass over the recipient. A full constellation includes 12 satellites deployed in two orbital planes at altitudes of about 1400 km.

The system became operational in the late 1980s, replacing an earlier but similar system. In addition to the military Strela-3 system, Russia began deployment of its civilian counterpart, known as Gonets-D and Gonets-D1, in 1992. Satellites of this system are currently deployed in the same orbital planes as military satellites and are also likely to be used for military applications.

Deployment of the Gonets/Strela-3 systems was interrupted from 1998 to 2001, as there were no launches of new satellites for more than three years (a launch attempt in 2000 was unsuccessful due to launcher failure). In December 2001, launches resumed, and by the end of 2005 the Space Forces had deployed fourteen new satellites, indicating Russia’s intention to continue maintenance of these systems.

Two communication systems that include satellites on HEO are Molniya-1 and Molniya-3. The orbits used for deployment of these satellites, Molniya orbits, are named after the satellites. An orbit of this type has a perigee of 400–1000 km and an apogee of about 40,000 km. A spacecraft that occupies this orbit spends most of a revolution at the apogee (which in the case of the Molniya satellites is located over the Russian territory), allowing it to provide better coverage of the country than a geostationary satellite.

Molniya satellites are relay satellites for generalpurpose military and civilian communication. To maintain the constellations, Russia launches about one satellite of each type annually. There have been some exceptions to this, but the pattern of launch activity suggests that Russia will continue to maintain these systems. On December 24, 2006, Russia launched a Meridian communication satellite (NORAD 29668), which is believed to be a followon to satellites of the Molniya type.

Another class of relay systems includes satellites of two different types deployed in GEO. Satellites of one type, Raduga-1/Globus-1, are used for generalpurpose communication and are reported to have secure channels for communication between military leadership. Raduga-1 satellites are deployed at four points on GEO over the Indian Ocean. The system has been in operation since 1989 and is maintained with regular launches.22

The second military communication system on GEO, Geizer, is used as a relay for low earth orbit satellites, including imaging and communication satellites. The satellites also appear to have spare bandwidth capacity that can be used for civilian applications. Geizer satellites have operated since 1982. A full constellation would include three satellites, but Russia has had only one operational satellite of this type in orbit since 2000.


Launch Sites

By the beginning of the 1990s, the Soviet Union had two primary space-launch centers—Baykonur (also known as Tyuratam) in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk near Arkhangelsk in northern Russia.23 The centers were Ministry of Defense test sites and, along with space launch facilities, they included a number of military installations used for tests of ICBMs. The Military Space Forces operated the centers with the participation of the Ministry of General Machine Building, which had the responsibility for the Soviet space program.

Baykonur has always been the main space-launch site, from which all launches of manned spacecraft and all launches into GEOs have occurred. The unique role of the Baykonur site forced Russia to seek a leasing agreement with Kazakhstan after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The agreement asserts Kazakh sovereignty over the site and requires Russia to pay an annual fee for its use. A January 2004 agreement extended the lease until 2050 and made provisions for the development of joint Russian-Kazakh projects.24

The terms of the lease apparently allow the Russian armed forces to continue to use the site for military-related space and ballistic missile launches. At the same time, Russia has sought ways to move all its military activity to sites on the Russian territory, a stated long-term goal.25 In order to do so, Russia has initiated construction of a new launch complex at the Plesetsk launch site, built some launch facilities in Svobodnyy on the Far East. It also commissioned a new launch facility at the ICBM base at Dombarovsky. The goal is to transfer all military launches to sites on Russian territory. Baykonur will most likely continue as a primary launch site for manned flights and for scientific and commercial activity.

Baykonur. The Baykonur space-launch site, established in 1955, is located in KzylOrda region of Kazakhstan, at the latitude of 46º North and longitude of 63º40’ East. The northern location of the site limits the range of inclination of orbits that satellites can be inserted into, as no orbits with inclinations less than 46 degrees are possible. The location also imposes a penalty in payload weight as compared to launch sites closer to the equator.

The launch-site territory contains a number of launch complexes, each designed to support launches (and rocket and satellite preparation) of a specific launcher type. Each complex includes one or two launch pads (or silos).

Two launch complexes with one launch pad each—launch complexes Nos. 1 and 31—support launches of the so-called R-7 family, which includes space launchers based on the R-7 ICBM design. Among these are Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz launchers used for the manned space program, Molniya launchers used for launching satellites into HEO, and modified versions of these launchers used for various missions. The launchers of the R7family can deliver a payload of up to eight metric tons into a low earth orbit, depending on configuration.

Launch complexes 81 and 200 service the Proton heavy launcher. Each complex has two launch pads. Proton can lift up to about a twentyton payload into a low earth orbit and about five metric tons into a geosynchronous orbit. It has the greatest lifting capability of Russian space launchers and is used for all launches of geostationary satellites. Baykonur is the only launch site that has Proton launch facilities.

Another dedicated space-launch complex at Baykonur is launch complex 45, which includes two launch pads for Zenit launchers. One of these launch pads was almost completely destroyed during a failed launch in 1990. Zenit is a relatively new launcher, which began operation in 1985. It can deliver about 13 metric tons into a low earth orbit and its military use has been primarily for launches of reconnaissance and signal intelligence satellites.26 Because the launcher is produced in Ukraine, its use for military launches will probably decrease.

Launch complex 90 is used for launches from a Tsiklon light launcher, also produced in Ukraine. The launcher is a modified R-36 (SS-9) missile and is used for a variety of military and civilian applications. It can deliver about 3.5 metric tons into a low earth orbit and has been recently used for the launch of a new US PU naval intelligence satellite.

Other launch complexes at Baykonur are ICBM silos, modified to accommodate space launches performed by converted missiles. These are launch complex 175 Rokot launcher (a converted UR-100 NU/SS-19 missile) and launch complex 109 of Dnepr launcher (a converted R-36 M/SS-18 missile). Used as launchers, these missiles can deliver into a low earth orbit about 1.8 and 4.5 metricton payloads, respectively. Despite their military origin, these launchers have not been used in the military space program.

Launch complexes 110 and 250 were built for the BuranEnergia project, although some facilities date back to the N-1 lunar program. These complexes were used for the Energia heavy launcher in 1987 and 1988. Since then, the program has been terminated and the launch facilities mothballed. It is highly unlikely that the Energia system will resume or that these facilities could be used without substantial modification and upgrade.

Russia and Kazakhstan agreed in January 2004 to begin joint work on a project that would include a new launch complex for the Angara launcher. This launcher was developed in Russia, with the intention of moving launches of military satellites from Baykonur to Plesetsk. The launch complex in Baykonur will be used for commercial launches.

Plesetsk. Established in the late 1950s as a base for R 7 ICBMs, the Plesetsk site later became a major space-launch site for the Soviet space program as well as a test site for the development of ballistic missiles. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Plesetsk was the only launch site in the Russian territory. The site is located in the northern Arkhangelsk region of Russia (63º North and 41º East). Compared with Baykonur or other launch sites, the northern position of the Plesetsk imposes further limits on both the range of inclinations of directly accessible orbits and the maximum payload. Despite this, Russia is developing Plesetsk as its main launch site, particularly for military space operations, primarily because the site already has extensive launchsupport infrastructure.

Plesetsk has two launch complexes for missiles of the R-7 family (Soyuz and Molniya). These are complex 43, with two launch pads, and complex 16, with one; both have been used for launches of reconnaissance satellites, communication satellites, and early-warning satellites deployed in HEO.

Launch complexes 132 and 133 each have one launch pad for the Kosmos-3 rocket. This light launcher, which can place about 1500 kilograms into a low Earth orbit), is a modification of the R-14 ballistic missile. It has been used to deliver communication, navigation, and signal intelligence satellites into low Earth orbit. Launch complex 133 also includes a launch pad that was converted from a Kosmos-3 to a Rockot launcher.

Until recently, the Plesetsk site supported launches of Tsiklon rockets. These launches were conducted from two launch pads at launch complex 32 used for launches of naval reconnaissance satellites. After a launch in December 2004, Space Forces announced that it would no longer conduct Tsiklon launches from Plesetsk.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union began to construct a complex that would support launches of Zenit rockets. After a series of delays, the plans were reconsidered and the complex was reoriented for Angara launchers. The initial plans called for Angara launches beginning in 2003–2004, but it is clear that the work is far behind the schedule.27

Svobodnyy. Until 1991, the Svobodnyy launch site was one of the operational bases for UR-100/SS-11 ICBMs. After the missiles were decommissioned during Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) reductions, the base was chosen as a location of a new space-launch site. The site, located at the latitude of 52º North, can potentially provide access to a wider range of orbits than the site in Plesetsk.

Initial development plans for the site envisioned construction of launch complexes for Rockot and Angara launchers.28 However, in 2006 the Russian government indicated that it will limit the activity in Svobodnyy.

So far, the only space launches conducted from the site have been those of Start1 launcher—a converted Topol/SS-25 ballistic missile, which can deliver about a 600 km payload to a low earth orbit. It is launched from a roadmobile platform and therefore does not require construction of a launch pad.

Dombarovsky. The most recent addition to the family of Russian space-launch sites is Dombarovsky (also known as Yasnyy). Dombarovsky is an active ICBM base—forty-two R-36M/SS-18 missiles were deployed at the site in 2007 and the site has been used for ICBM test launches as well as for a commercial space launch in July 2006.

The Strategic Rocket Forces plan to use the base for launches of the Dnepr launcher, which is a converted SS-18 missile. This missile has been used for space launches already, though only from Baykonur. Unlike all other launch sites, Dombarovsky will be operated by the Strategic Rocket Forces. Dnepr launch services, whether from Baykonur or from Dombarovsky, will be marketed by a company named Kosmotras. The Rocket Forces expect to conduct up to seven space launches from the site annually.

Satellite Control and Space Surveillance Networks

The scale of the Soviet space program, both civilian and military, necessitated substantial investment in ground facilities and infrastructure to support satellite operations. In addition to space-launch sites, the Soviet Union built a network of ground-control and measurement facilities to control satellites, as well as stations to receive and process information supplied by space-based sensors and to deliver this information to military and civilian users. The Soviet Union also developed a network of satellite-tracking facilities that allowed it to monitor the space activities of other countries.

Control and Measurement Centers. Every space system includes a ground component from which operators control satellites and process data. The ground equipment is usually installed at one of twelve stationary control and measurement complexes (OKIKs), which are dispersed throughout the territory of the Soviet Union (see Table 6 and Figure 1). Some of these complexes specialize in certain tasks—the center in Galenki in the Far East, for example, has an antenna that allows it to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft. However, a center’s mission usually is determined by the requirements of a particular system. Different programs may share installations if possible, but for the most part each program has its own dedicated equipment.

Table 6: Control and Measurement Complexes

Location Designation Comment
Eniseisk OKIK4
Vulkannyy OKIK6
Barnaul OKIK7 Measurement complex
Krasnoye Selo OKIK9
Kolpashevo OKIK12
Nizhniye Taltsy OKIK13
Shchelkovo OKIK14
Galenki OKIK15 Deep-space communication
Solnechnyy OKIK17
Vorkuta OKIK18
Lekhtusi Training OKIK
Dunayevtsy Navigation and communication
Yevpatoriya Deep-space communication
Priozersk Navigation and communication
Kitab Included laser ranging systems

Figure 1: Space Launch Sites and the Network of Control and Measurement Complexes

Figure 1

In the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia lost a significant part of the Soviet control and measurement infrastructure. Ukraine had three complexes of this type, one of which, in Yevpatoriya, was dedicated to deep-space communication and served as a node in the regional network. One complex in Ukraine served as a regional center for navigation and communication satellites.29 A similar complex at Priozersk in Kazakhstan, close to the major missile defense test site at SaryShagan, provided support for communication and navigation satellites. A complex of a different kind was located in Kitab, Uzbekistan. It was one of the newest additions to the control and measurement network and was equipped with laser measurement systems.30

In addition to the network of control and measurement centers, Russia maintains a network of smaller orbitmeasurement facilities; this network includes more than a dozen small centers that provide trajectory and orbit measurements. Some of these facilities are situated along the trajectories followed by ballistic missiles during tests; others are located in the vicinity of space-launch sites. To supplement stationary systems, Russia operates and deploys as necessary a number of smaller mobile trajectory-measurement systems. The Soviet Union also had five ship-based measurement systems, but none are in use today.

Most of these control and measurement complexes and facilities are managed by the Main Space Systems Center (GITsIU KS) located in Krasnoznamensk (also known as Golitsyno-2), near Moscow. The center is a main control unit for the Space Forces. It directs activities and accumulates data about operations for almost all military space-based systems. Although the Space Forces manage the launch of all satellites, the military usually transfer control of civilian satellites to their separate control facilities shortly after launch. However, some civilian systems use the hardware of the Space Forces’ control and measurement network.

Subdivisions within the main center are responsible for specific programs. For example, a separate center, also located in Krasnoznamensk, is responsible for control of the Glonass system.31 Some military systems, however, are managed completely separately. Among these are the US-KS and US-KMO early-warning systems, which have their own control center in Kurilovo, Serpukhov region,32 and the US-PU naval intelligence system, which traditionally has been managed by the Navy.33

Space Surveillance and Tracking Systems. As with many other components of the space program, the space-surveillance and space-tracking systems that Russia inherited from the Soviet Union were adversely affected by the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Soviet space-tracking system relied primarily on early-warning radar stations deployed along the periphery of the Soviet territory. At the time of the breakup, most of the newer Daryal/Pechora radar systems were under construction; after 1992, they were left outside Russian territory. As a result, Russia has had to rely on older radar systems, some of which have been in operation since the early 1970s, for its space-tracking (and early-warning) needs.34

At the core of the radar network, which provides Russia with the capability to track objects in space, are: the Dnestr-M/Dnepr/Hen House radar systems at Olenegorsk (Murmansk region, Russia), Mishelevka (Irkutsk region, Russia), Balkhash (Kazakhstan), Sevastopol (Ukraine), and Mukachevo (Ukraine); the Daryal/Pechora radar systems at Olenegorsk, Pechora (Russia), and Gabala (Azerbaijan); and the Volga radar system in Baranovichi (Belarus). Many of these are outside Russia, which as a result must negotiate terms of use with the host country.

In addition to using dedicated early-warning radar systems, Russia also tracks objects in space using the radar of the Moscow missiledefense system. It has been reported that the Don-2N/Pushkino radar provides the most accurate tracking information.

Other space-tracking capabilities are located at the Krona facility in Zelenchukskaya, Karachaiyevo-Cherkessia. The facility includes dedicated space-surveillance radar systems, which will be soon complemented by a laser ranger system.35

To track objects at high altitudes, where radars cannot see, Russia operates optical surveillance facilities. The most advanced of these systems is the Okno system, located in Nurek, Tajikistan. Construction of this system began in the 1980s, which reached operational status only in 1999. The Okno system can detect spacecraft at altitudes up to 40,000 km.36 Scientific telescopes of the Academy of Sciences can also be assigned to track space objects if necessary.


The Soviet Union was the only country that developed and operationally deployed an anti-satellite (ASAT) system to attack satellites in low earth orbits. The United States worked on an ASAT system during the cold war, but abandoned these efforts during the early stages of development.

The development of the Soviet ASAT system began in the early 1960s, and the first test flights of maneuverable spacecraft were performed in 1963–1964. The TsNII Kometa design bureau of the Ministry of Radio Industry managed the development of the system. The space launcher used in the system was a modified R-36 (SS-9) missile, developed by OKB-586 design bureau (now Yuzhnoye Design Bureau). In addition to the launcher and the interceptor spacecraft, the system included a network of space-surveillance radar and the command and control center.

Initial tests of the system were conducted in 1968. During subsequent tests, the system demonstrated its ability to destroy satellites in low orbits, with altitudes of up to 1000 km. The system was tested with different intercept geometries, onboard sensors, and proximity fuses (infrared and radar).

The system was accepted for service and commissioned for active duty in 1979. The launchers were deployed at the Baykonur test site, where testing continued until 1982. In November 1983, the Soviet leadership announced a unilateral moratorium on further ASAT tests.

The status of the ASAT system deployed in Baykonur has never been officially disclosed, but it is certain that the system is no longer operational. Some reports indicate that the system underwent modernization that was completed in 1991. Parts of the space-surveillance network that were integral to the ASAT system were lost to Russia during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia formally decommissioned the system in 1993.


Space Forces

The current structure of the military space program is the result of a series of reorganizations conducted in the last decade. Today, the Space Forces manage all military space-related activities in Russia. These forces form a separate branch of the armed forces, and are directly subordinate to the General Staff. This makes the Space Forces independent from the main services of the armed forces (i.e., from the Air Force, Navy, or Army). The current configuration of the Space Forces was created in June 2001 by a presidential decree that transferred all units responsible for operating space-related facilities and satellite systems to the newly created branch of the armed forces. The Space Forces also currently include the units that operate the early-warning system, space-surveillance and space-tracking systems, and the Moscow missile defense system.

In the Soviet Union, space operations and early-warning and missile defense systems belonged to different services and branches of the military. Initially, all space-related activity was part of the Strategic Rocket Forces and its predecessor, where it was managed by a separate directorate, the Main Space Systems Directorate (GUKOS). In 1982, GUKOS was removed from the Strategic Rocket Forces and subordinated directly to the General Staff, and in 1986, its name was changed to the United Space Systems Directorate (UNKS). In 1992, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the units of UNKS were transformed into the Military Space Forces, which remained under the direct control of the General Staff.

During a major reorganization of the Russian armed forces in 1997, the Military Space Forces were again subordinated to the Strategic Rocket Forces. This time, the Strategic Rocket Forces also included early-warning, space-surveillance, and missile defense units, which were transferred from the disbanded Air Defense Forces. Reorganization in 2001 created the Space Forces as a separate branch of the armed forces, and all the above units were transferred to the Space Forces.

The 1997 reorganization constituted a major change in the traditional structure of the Soviet/Russian armed forces. Historically, early warning of a missile attack, tracking space objects, and operating missile defense systems were included among the missions of the Air Defense Forces, a separate service of the armed forces responsible for strategic defense of the country. In many important ways, its structure and responsibilities were different from those of the space directorate or Strategic Rocket Forces; integration of these units into the Military Space Forces after the 1997 reorganization was a difficult process, although the transition appeared to improve after the 2001 reform.

As a result of all reorganizations, the Space Forces currently include the following main units:

  • space launch sites, at Baykonur, Plesetsk, and Svobodnyy;
  • the Space Systems Control Center and a network of control and measurement centers;
  • the Space and Missile Defense Army, which includes divisions that provide early warning, space surveillance, and missile defense; and
  • other units, which include military academies and a directorate responsible for the construction of space and missile defense facilities.

The Space Forces are headed by LieutenantGeneral Vladimr Popovkin, who was appointed to this post in March 2004. His predecessor, ColonelGeneral Anatoly Perminov, was transferred to the Federal Space Agency, which is responsible for the civilian space program.

Space Industry

In the Soviet Union, the defense industry played a very prominent role in the process of research and development. The armed forces were responsible for developing the technical requirements for new systems and then accepting these systems for service. Industry was responsible for financing research, development, and subsequent production of a new system. A special interagency government body, the MilitaryIndustrial Commission, coordinated the efforts of various ministries involved in large research and development projects.37

The Ministry of General Machine-Building held responsibility for the development and production of space systems. The ministry handled development and production of ballistic missiles, space launchers, satellites, and the equipment to support these technologies. It managed most of the civilian space programs and provided oversight for military space programs.

Another defense ministry—the Ministry of Radio Industry—developed missile defense and early-warning systems. Design bureaus and enterprises of this ministry worked directly on the development of large radar systems used in early-warning, missile defense, and space surveillance and integrated their work in these areas into projects that involved other ministries of defense industry. For example, the Ministry of Radio Industry was responsible for the space-based early-warning and the anti-satellite systems, but the launchers and spacecraft used in these programs were developed and produced by the Ministry of General Machine-Building.

In the years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the defense industry underwent a radical transformation, which significantly changed the structure of the industry and the way it handles the development and production of new military systems.

In the early 1990s, as old Soviet defense ministries were being abolished, the key design bureaus and production plants of the space industry were transferred to the Russian Space Agency. At the same time, the role of the new agency was not as farreaching as that of the old Soviet ministry; it was largely limited to handling civilian projects in space, including projects that involved international cooperation.

The reorganization of other enterprises in the military industry, including those of the Ministry of Radio Industry, differed. They were first transferred to the Ministry of Economics, and later to its successors, as this ministry underwent a number of reorganizations. However, none of the successor governmental agencies had the authority or the necessary organizational structure to manage or coordinate new development projects. Besides, in the 1990s, the Russian government could not sustain spending in the defense industry at the level that had existed in the Soviet Union. As a result, much of the organizational and physical infrastructure of the defense industry has been lost.

In recent years, the Russian government has attempted several times to restructure the defense industry and streamline the development and acquisition processes. The reorganizations resulted in a structure that repeats that of the Soviet era in some important aspects; however, in other aspects, no less important, it differs. The acquisition process in the armed forces is still managed by special departments inside individual services. However, these departments must deal with defense industry design bureaus and companies directly, rather than through interagency processes managed by defense industry ministries and the Military Industrial Commission. The Ministry of Defense is also supposed to manage the development and production budget, which previously went directly to the industry.38

The main difference between the traditional Soviet system of research and development and the current Russian one is that the latter lacks an agency that coordinates the efforts of various defense industry companies and determines the long-term research and development plan. This difference occurs in both the defense industry in general and in its individual branches. For the purpose of this analysis, it is important to note that, in the past, neither the military space industry nor the industry responsible for missile defense and anti-satellite weapons retained an organizational component that managed the development of new systems. Development work in these fields has traditionally required a significant amount of coordination among various companies and ministries; the current lack of a central ministry for the oversight of development indicates that Russia probably does not have the capability to undertake large development programs in military space or in related fields.

An effort to correct this situation was undertaken during a major reorganization of the Russian government carried out in March 2004. As part of the reorganization, the Russian Space Agency was transformed into a Federal Space Agency and was subordinated directly to the prime minister. As discussed above, the new director of the agency, ColonelGeneral Anatoly Perminov, was the commander-in-chief of the Space Forces before his appointment to lead the civilian space program, an appointment that indicated the government’s intent to strengthen both the civilian and the military space programs.

Despite these efforts, Russia has yet to demonstrate that it can successfully manage a largescale research and development project in space, whether military or civilian. In fact, as we have seen, even without new programs Russia has experienced problems maintaining the programs and infrastructure inherited from the Soviet Union.


Despite recent downturns, several aspects of the Russian space program and related industries—the scale of the space program, the existing industrial infrastructure, and the breadth of expertise retained by Russian companies— will make Russia an important actor in any development related to the militarization or weaponization of space. At the same time, the exact role that Russia would play in this process is still to be determined.

One possibility would be for Russia to compete with the United States in space (and militarily, in general), as the Soviet Union did in the past. This view of the future, fairly popular among Russian political and military leaders, may be explained by the fact that space technology is one of the few areas in which Russian technologies remain internationally competitive. Leaders see space as an area in which Russia can, and therefore should, maintain parity with the United States.

The Russian leadership has been paying close attention to the space program in recent years, which seems to indicate that Russia has set the goal of developing and supporting a full range of military space systems. If these plans materialize, Russian military satellites could become potential targets for space-based weapon systems (or ground-based anti-satellite systems). In addition, the history of missile defense and anti-satellite programs of the Soviet Union suggest that Russia could initiate new development efforts in these areas as well. Programs in these areas would enable Russia to deploy its own space-based weapons to counter the military space systems deployed by the United States. Although it is highly unlikely that the relationship between Russia and the United States would reach the point of a competition or even an arms race in space, this possibility has been widely used to justify space-weaponization programs. It is therefore important to consider whether the current state of the Russian space program supports the idea of Russia as a competitor to the United States in space.

First, Russia’s ability to deploy a range of space-based military systems that would support the operations of the Russian armed forces—optical reconnaissance, navigation, and signal intelligence systems—is an essential component of competition in space. Russia does operate a number of systems of this kind, but, as discussed, none of them operates at full capacity. In addition, most of these systems were developed in the 1980s and have not been modernized for a substantial period of time, which hardly makes them suitable for support of modern military operations.

In many cases, Russia has to deal with the low reliability of satellites developed in the Soviet Union. This was not a serious problem when the military had access to a virtually unlimited launch capacity. It is a problem for Russia now, however, as a large number of launches are required just to maintain constellations in a very limited configuration.

There is another problem, potentially more serious, with the current Russian military space program. Realizing the full potential of space requires a significant investment in the creation of an infrastructure that would allow troops to use information and capabilities provided by the space-based components of the system. Although Russia has been improving its capability to launch satellites and to maintain and operate satellite constellations, the development of infrastructure on the ground remains the weakest link, limiting much of the effort to broaden the use of space systems.

The Glonass satellite navigation system illustrates these points particularly well. It was developed in the 1970s and became operational in the mid-1980s. In recent years, Russia has invested considerable effort into having a full constellation of 24 Glonass satellites in orbit. In order to achieve this deployment, it had to upgrade the spacecraft to extend their lifetimes, as it could not otherwise provide enough launches to replace the satellites in orbit.39 However, even if the plan to populate all slots in the constellation succeeds, the ground infrastructure does not seem to be ready to take advantage of the system. For example, it was reported that the aircraft of Military Transport Aviation do not have Glonass receivers onboard and rely on the GPS system of the United States instead.40

Most of the same problems are common to photoreconnaissance and signal intelligence systems. Although Russia has the capability to collect imaging information and to monitor communications, these capabilities are not integrated into the command structure of the armed forces to the extent that would make these systems directly usable in military operations. The launch schedule of the satellites that provide these capabilities confirm this lack of integration—for example, there have been no serious efforts to constantly maintain the presence of imaging satellites in orbit. The same is true of signal intelligence satellites— Russia does not maintain fully operational constellations. Although this may be explained in part by a lack of sufficient funding, success with other systems, namely communication satellites, shows that funding was probably not the only, or even the main, factor. As the recent history of communication-satellite launches demonstrates, Russia has been investing considerable effort into its space-based communication network. This was due partly to the dualuse nature of the satellites, which are used for both military and civilian communications; however, military systems like the Strela system have been maintained at close to full capacity.

The situation with early-warning satellites is also very characteristic of the current Russian space program. Although the space-based early-warning system is considered an important element of the strategic command and control system, Russia in effect discontinued its efforts to maintain a full constellation of satellites in orbit after 2001, seemingly satisfied with the limited capability provided by the few satellites it can support. Expansion of the system does not appear to the have the urgency that would justify efforts to deploy the constellation in its full capacity.

All of these factors make Russia’s space systems unlikely targets for space-based or anti-satellite weapons. Although an attack on some Russian military—or civilian—space assets could theoretically have adverse effects on Russia’s capability to conduct military operations, in practice none of the currently deployed military space systems is advanced enough for an attack to make a significant difference militarily.

This situation could change if Russia were to modernize its military systems in space and better integrate them into the operations of the armed forces. For example, if Russia completes deployment of its Glonass navigation system, it could employ the system to expand the use of high-precision munitions. Another development of this kind would be the deployment of a naval intelligence system of the US-P/US-A (EORSAT/RORSAT) type, which would enable the detection of aircraft carriers and other ships. This example is usually cited (although in the context of the United States and China) as a potential justification for the development of an anti-satellite capability that would prevent deployment and operation of a naval intelligence system of this kind.41

Although a largescale development effort of the kind described above cannot be ruled out completely, experience of the last several years has demonstrated that it is highly unlikely. For example, as discussed, Russia is experiencing substantial difficulties with the Glonass system. Similarly, deployment of a new naval intelligence system (or of any other military system) would require the kind of development effort that Russia has not yet been able to manage successfully.

The possibility that Russia will develop its own capability to deploy weapons in space or to build an anti-satellite system seems to be even more remote. First, Russia would certainly not become the first country to develop and deploy a space-related weapons system, as this would contradict its longstanding policy on the weaponization of space and its practice of following the United States in most technological developments. Besides, it is unlikely that without the United States committing itself to space-weapons development Russia would be able to make a decision to initiate any substantial effort of its own.

Even if the United States decided to introduce weapons in space, Russia would be unlikely to follow. Its experience with anti-satellite programs is discouraging—the capabilities of the Soviet system were very limited and if used would have had virtually no impact on the ability of the United States to operate its own space-based systems. With the increase in U.S. capabilities in space, a system of the kind that the Soviet Union had in the 1970s would be even less useful today. Among other factors that would make development of space-related weapons systems less likely are the very high cost of such systems and the lack of a proper organizational structure to support a development project in this area.

It is more likely that Russia would turn to a policy of “asymmetric response,” planning measures to counter the systems developed by the United States should they present a threat to Russia’s space assets. This policy would be relatively easy to implement, for, as already noted, Russia’s limited reliance on space systems does not make its armed forces overly susceptible to an attack on space assets.

Russia does not have many options for the development of its own weapon systems in space or for its reaction to the development of this capability by other countries, namely the United States. However, this does not mean that Russia will not react should the United States move forward with the weaponization of space. As was the case with the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the Russian reaction might not be very visible, but it will be strong nonetheless. For example, Russia has used the abrogation of the ABM Treaty as an excuse to extend the service life of its multiple-warhead ballistic missiles and has taken other measures that have not made nuclear arsenals safer or more secure.

Eventually, measures such as extending the life of missiles are the most significant and dangerous global effects of new military developments, whether missile defense or space-based weapons. The fact that these measures and their costs are not immediately apparent does not mean that they do not exist or that they should not be taken into account. The benefits of introducing weapons into space are highly questionable—there are few if any cases that could possibly justify the development of space-based weapons capabilities. When these benefits are weighed against the costs, the case for weaponization of space is virtually indefensible.


1. Aleksandr Gorshkov, “V vooruzhennykh silakh SShA proiskhodit ne prosto reforma, a revolyutsiya,” NVO NG, April 1, 2005.

2. Aleksandr Gorshkov, “V vooruzhennykh silakh SShA proiskhodit ne prosto reforma, a revolyutsiya.”

3. Sergey Brezkun, “Natsionalnaya prerogativa,” VPK, no. 8 (75), March 2–15, 2005; Radmir Smirnov, “Zvezdnyye voiny: novaya versiya,” NVO NG, October 15, 2004.

4. The model on which scenarios of this kind are based is the NATO bombing campaign in Serbia in 1999.

5. This kind of thinking directly echoes the one that dominated in the early stages of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) debate—the Soviet Union considered “space strike weapons” to be the most threatening aspect of the program at that time.

6. Vyacheslav Baskakov, “Kosmicheskiye sily kak garantiya oborony strany,” NVO NG, October 7, 2004.

7. Aleksandr Rukshin (Chief, Operational Directorate of the General Staff), “Air and Space Defense,” VPK, no. 15, December 17–23, 2003.

8. G. P. Kupriyanov, “Osnovnyye tendentsii razvitiya form vooruzhennoy borby v vozdushnokosmicheskoy sfere,” Voyennaya mysl, no. 1 (2005).

9. Vladimir Slipchenko, “Reforma bez kotoroy ne oboitis,” VPK, no. 48 (65), December 15–21, 2004.

10. Geoff Fein, “Russian Federation Seeks Ban On SpaceBased Weapons,” Defense Daily, February 9, 2005.

11. Anatoly Perminov, “Voyennyy kosmos Rossii,” Voyennaya mysl, no. 1 (2004).

12. Vladimir Slipchenko, “Reforma bez kotoroy ne oboitis.”

13. Pavel Podvig, “History and the Current Status of the Russian EarlyWarning System,” Science and Global Security, vol. 10, no. 1 (2002): 21–60.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. I. Safronov, “Moskva ustanovila nad mirom protivoraketnyy control,” Kommersant, April 28, 2003.

17. K. Lantratov and E. Fedorov, “Otstavka kosmicheskogo naznacheniya,” Kommersant, August 25, 2003.

18. “Ispytaniya novoy kosmicheskoi sistemy SPRN nachnutsya v 2009 godu,”, August 20, 2007.

19. I. Safronov, “Rossiiskiy voyennyi kosmos ischerpal sovetski zapas,” Kommersant, November 12, 2005.

20. K. Lantratov and E. Fedorov, “Otstavka kosmicheskogo naznacheniya.”

21. Andrey Liscovich, “Global Navigation Satellite System: Problems and Prospects,” Center for Arms Control Studies Working Paper, Dolgoprudny, 2004.

22. Yu. Zhuravin, “Na orbite—novaya Raduga,” Novosti kosmonavtiki, no. 10 (2000).

23. Another test site used for launching small spacecraft, Kapustin Yar in Orenburg oblast, has not been used in this capacity for military purposes since 1988. In 1999, the site was used for a commercial launch and may be used in auxiliary role in the future.

24. Agreement between Kazakhstan and Russia on further development of cooperation in effective operation of Baykonur, Astana, January 4, 2002.

25. A. Bogatyrev, “Severnye starty,” Krasnaya zvezda, October 30, 2003.

26. A. Zak, “Rockets: the Zenit Family,” Russian Space Web,, accessed October 12, 2003.

27. Yu. Zhuravin, “Plestsk poluchit razvitiye,” Novosti kosmonavtiki, no. 3 (2002).

28. “Zapuski s kosmodroma Svobodnyy nachnutsya ne ranshe 2005 g,”,, accessed June 24, 2004.

29. Voyennokosmicheskiye sily, vol. 3 (Moscow, 2001) p. 180.

30. Voyennokosmicheskiye sily, pp. 187–188.

31. I. Gorbunov, “Troistvennaya druzhba,” Vremya novostey, April 5, 2004.

32. Pavel Podvig, “History and the Current Status of the Russian EarlyWarning System.”

33. A. I. Savin, G. F. Zotov, and Yu.Ye. Petrushchenko, “Sistema morskoi razvedki i tseleukazaniya,”, accessed October 14, 2003.

34. Podvig, “History and the Current Status of the Russian EarlyWarning System.”

35. Sergey Kurushkin, in “Vysoty goda,” Krasnaya zvezda, October 2, 2004.

36. M. Sevastianov, and M. Davidenko, “Okno v kosmos,” Novosti kosmonavtiki, no. 9 (2003).

37. “The Structure and Operations of Strategic Forces,” in Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, ed. Pavel Podvig (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), p. 44.

38. N. Poroskov, “Kaska davit na mozgi,” Vremya novostey, May 31, 2004.

39. Andrey Liscovich, “Global Navigation Satellite System.”

40. N. Poroskov, “My vynuzdeny letat po amerkansroi sisteme,” Vremya novostey, July 1, 2004.

41. Michael E. O’Hanlon, Neither Star-Wars nor Sancturary: Constraining the Military Uses of Space (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).