Russia's Space Forces
Oct 26, 2016

Through the establishment of Russia’s Space Forces and expansion of its constellation of the military satellites, Russia plans to significantly increase its military potential in outer space. Created by merging its Air Force and Aerospace Defence Forces, Russia's Space Forces was officially established in 2015 in a bid to prevent potential attacks from near space. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, its establishment is a response to the U.S. concept of Prompt Global Strike, and final formation will be completed by 2018-2019.

According to Valery Gerasimov, head of the Russian General Staff and Russia’s First Deputy Defense Minister, the establishment of Space Forces is just part of Russian efforts for the raise of its military potential in space.

Gerasimov says particular attention will be paid to the establishment of a layered defense missile warning system, the deployment of high operational radar stations, and placement of new Russian military satellites.

The newly established forces will be comprised of several systems, among which are an intelligence and warning system of air and space attacks; a system of destruction and suppression of forces and means of air and space attack of the enemy; a management system; plus an overall support system.

This year, the Russian Ministry of Defence plans to begin the construction of new radio systems of space control in Moscow, Kaliningrad regions, as well as Altai and Primorsky regions of the country. Overall, there are plans to deploy more than a dozen new generation laser-optical and radio space tracking systems that will significantly improve the information capabilities of the Russian space monitoring system, expand the range of controlled orbits by 2-3 times, and reduce the minimum size of detected objects.

In addition to this, the Russian Ministry of Defence has announced its intention to accelerate the design and launch of military satellites. Alexander Zheleznyakov, a rocket engineer for the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, said that Russia has rich experience of the building of reconnaissance satellites.

Alexander Zheleznyakov
Alexander Zheleznyakov

As part of these plans, the Russian Defense Ministry will spend 70 billion rubles (US$2 billion) by 2018 on the development and launch of new satellites, designed for military purposes. So far, the Ministry has organized several tenders for the design of satellites for its needs.

The new satellites will improve on the Soviet Arsenal satellites which were built at the St. Petersburg machine-building plant before the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Last year, the Russian Ministry of Defence, together with the Russian Space Agency, organized a closed tender for the development of Aquavarel reconnaissance satellite with the Russian Berg Central Scientific Research Institute of Radio Engineering, one of Russia’s leading research centers in the field of space and radio engineering. The project involves the development of five terrestrial transceiver stations that will be integrated with some Earth surveillance, imagery intelligence and radar satellites in due course.

The state also plans to deploy more than 10 complexes of space monitoring system. This will allow Russia to complete a catalog of space objects and satellites, similar to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is a combined U.S. and Canada organization that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for Northern America.

According to Major-General Anatoly Nestechuk, a deputy commander of the Russian Space Forces, the first two space monitoring stations will be commissioned by the middle of 2016 and will be located in Moscow and the Far East, while another 2 stations will be ready by 2020, and will be built in Siberia and the Urals region.

MGen Nestechuk notes that the NORAD catalog currently contains about 15,000 objects, whereas Russia has 12,000 in its catalogue.

Oleg Maidanovich, head of the Russian Space Forces, says the total number of space objects including satellites in near-Earth space is currently estimated at 100,000 objects.

Russia’s military reconnaisance satellite.
Russia’s military reconnaissance satellite.

The commissioning of four new stations will allow Russia to overtake the U.S. in this field and establish permanent control for the near-earth space.

An official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defence said that Russia has no plans to resume the implementation of the Istrebitel Sputnik (Satellite Fighter) project, which was a Soviet anti-satellite weapons programme that led to the deployment of the IS-A or I2P system during the 1970s and 1980s. The program was designed during the Soviet period, however its implementation was suspended after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has denied recent reports of some U.S. media of secret launches of such satellites by Russia from some of its military cosmodromes, as well as the launch of so-called suicide satellites, which involves bringing an interceptor into the orbit to destroy a specified target.

Inside Russia’s  Federal Space Agency space laboratory.
Inside Russia’s Federal Space Agency space laboratory.

The Ministry also denied U.S. media reports about Russian ability to destroy American satellites in orbit that will could possibly lead to the termination of mobile communications and the Internet.

However, recent statements by Anatoly Savin, scientific director of the VKO Almaz-Antey, a leading state-owned space design bureau, note that Russia has developed a unique automated complex that can destroy satellites of a potential enemy if deemed necessary.

According to Maidanovich, the expansion of military constellation of satellites is one of the most important goals for the Russian government in the field of space during the next several years. According to him, in recent years, intelligence activities of some countries in the nearspace have significantly accelerated. For instance, he says a group of electronic reconnaissance satellites was recently discovered by the officers of Russian Space Forces conducting reconnaissance on some strategic objects in the territory of Russia.

Maidanovich also added that these reconnaissance satellites were disguised as space debris. He also said that the current list of space objects, which are subject to round-the-clock monitoring by the Russian Main Intelligence Center, is currently comprised of 20,000 units, the majority of which are satellites.

At present, Russia has the ability to shoot down space objects, says Maidanovich, including satellites and space stations, with the use of new S-400 “Triumph,” a next generation anti-aircraft weapon system, developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau.

The rising Russian military potential in the field of space has been welcomed by some leading local analysts. Colonel Andrei Koshkin, Head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology of the Plekhanov Economic University, one of Russia’s leading universities in the field of military science, commented that: “Formation of Space Forces is an acute need that will allow [Russia] to prevent missile attacks on Russian cities and will allow to speed the replacement of obsolete and outdated Soviet-style radars and military satellites.”

In the meantime, according to plans of the Russian Ministry of Defence, S-500 Prometey (the Russian surface-to-air missile system) will become the major weapon system of the Air-Cosmic Forces.

The new system is currently designed by Almaz-Antey, which is also the main producer of anti-aircraft missile and radar systems in Russia.

The Russian Ministry of Defence began testing the S-500 last year, while the beginning of its official supplies for the needs of the Russian army will begin in the coming months.

The new system will ensure interception of objects not only in the air but also in near space to as far as 250 kilometers. It will be able to shoot down both aircrafts and strategic missiles.

Sergey Ivanov is a Russian defence analyst.