Does Russia create space forces and will it join the Star Wars?

MOSCOW, (BM) – As the US Space Forces develops, Russia continues to strengthen its own military space assets, Defense News writes. According to the publication, Moscow is working on expanding the capabilities of electronic warfare in outer space, increasing the stability of national communication systems and developing capabilities to defeat objects of ground-based space infrastructure of hypothetical opponents.

According to Union of Concerned Scientists and space launch reports, there are currently over 2,200 satellites in near-Earth space. More than 1000 of them belong to American companies, government services and scientific institutions, including 189 military spacecraft.

Russia currently has more than 160 satellites in orbit. This number includes about 100 military spacecraft.

For comparison, the orbital constellation of China in near-Earth orbits currently has more than 320 satellites, including almost 105 military spacecraft. Chinese commercial satellites and spacecraft for monitoring the surface of the planet (remote sensing of the Earth) can also be used for military purposes.

Russia’s economy today is less dependent on space infrastructure than the economy of America or China, and, of course, less dependent than the economy of Europe, Defense News writes. Nevertheless, Russia is trying to keep the third largest orbital constellation of spacecraft in the world in working condition.

There is no official budget information on the Russian military space program. Nevertheless, using state open sources and financial data of the state corporation Roscosmos, Defense News reporters calculated that.

The annual cost of developing the Russian military orbital group, launch vehicles and launching is approximately $ 1 billion.

According to Defense News, spending on the Russian GLONASS space navigation system (currently consisting of 27 satellites) in 2019 amounted to $ 437 million, and spending on the Plesetsk military space center – at least $ 100 million per year.

All these efforts, plus the cost of servicing ground-based space infrastructure and staff costs, mean that the cost of the Russian military space program is approximately $ 1.6 billion.

According to Defense News, most of the Russian military orbital grouping includes 51 space communications vehicles with 16 detailed (optoelectronic) photo reconnaissance satellites. This is significantly different from the orbital groups of the USA, China and the EU, where satellites of all types of observation of the Earth’s surface dominate (detailed photo-reconnaissance (optoelectronic), radio and radio reconnaissance, remote sensing of the Earth).

For example, in the United States there are 56 Earth observation satellites and 49 communication satellites, while in China there are 57 satellites of similar types and only three communication satellites.

However, Russian state-owned space industry enterprises today face sanctions that significantly affect their technological capabilities.

And unlike other space powers, the Russian armed forces cannot rely on commercial space systems, since the domestic market for commercial space services is poorly developed in Russia. In addition, according to Defense News, Moscow’s attention to communications and navigation capabilities creates a gap in space intelligence capabilities.

Another factor in maintaining the operational state of the Russian orbital group is the rotation of spacecraft in connection with the periodic expiration of their service life. In 2014-2016, Russia launched 22 military satellites, but the total number of spacecraft in the orbital group remained stable – approximately 80-81 satellites. This was due both to the end of the spacecraft’s life in the period from the 1990s to the beginning of the 2000s, and to the failure and termination of the operation of experimental satellites with short lifetimes.

Since 2017, Russia has launched 26 military satellites, and the number of spacecraft in the orbital constellation has increased to 105. It is likely that the life cycle of individual Russian satellites has slightly increased. By the way, the service life of American spacecraft is about twice that of Russian.

Thanks to access to the European and American electronic component base in previous years (until 2014), Russia was able to extend the life of some of its military satellites. But, nevertheless, the rotation speed of the Russian orbital group began to decrease from around 2010. Without legal access to Western technologies and a modern electronic-component base, it will be difficult for Moscow to create its military spacecraft and maintain its orbital constellation at the required level in the coming years.

This objective weakness of the national industry inevitably makes Moscow try by any other means to negate the advantages in the near-Earth space of the United States and other leading space powers.

However, Russia’s actions in this direction, such as the strange orbital maneuvering of experimental Russian satellites or the testing of anti-aircraft guided missiles with potential anti-satellite capabilities, should not be overestimated.

It makes no sense to aim at hundreds of satellites in many orbits, and it is impossible to do this covertly, writes Defense News. In this regard, Moscow, presumably, is simply looking for some material instruments that will strengthen its position in negotiations with the United States.

Russia is really trying to increase its capabilities in the near space. This applies to issues of electronic warfare, radio and radio intelligence, improving the stability of control and communication systems.

Opportunities are also being developed for the incapacitation of ground-based space infrastructure objects of potential enemies.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia inherited both an extensive space infrastructure and a place among world space powers.

Moscow still retains one of its leading roles in the global space community, exploiting the third largest orbiting constellation of spacecraft in the world and managing several of the busiest space centers in the world.

At the same time, this happens in the context of inconsistent federal budget policy and widespread internal corruption. This is stated in the report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies of the USA (CSIS) “Space Threat Assessment 2020” published at the end of March.

According to some indicators, the space activity of Russia is even significantly higher than that of the Soviet Union, which, before the collapse, launched into orbit more payloads than all other countries combined.

Since the close of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, Russia has delivered 53 foreign astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), including 34 American astronauts.

According to the approved budget documents, since 2018, when delivering astronauts to the ISS, the cost of a flight for one person is more than $ 80 million. Revenues from this space activity account for 17% of the annual budget of Roscosmos.

Over the past decades, NASA has had very ambitious plans to create an American launch vehicle capable of delivering its astronauts to the ISS, reducing the United States’ dependence on the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle.

The first flight test of the SpaceX Dragon manned spacecraft is expected later this year. It will be implemented as part of a program to create commercial spacecraft in the United States. Following the successful completion of SpaceX Dragon tests, Roscosmos Corporation may soon encounter a much smaller number of customers flying into space compared to past decades, according to a report from the US Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Despite the tense world situation in recent years, the CSIS report emphasizes, Russia has established strong international partnerships in the space sector in addition to its obligations under the ISS agreement. For instance, Roscosmos entered into negotiations with the National Space Administration of China on joint missions to explore the moon, starting in 2020.

Since 2011, Russia has been using the Guiana Space Center, a European spaceport located near the city of Kourou in French Guiana (Department of France in South America). Its location near the equator provides a 15% advantage in payload compared to launches eastward from the American spaceport at Cape Canaveral and 40% for launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

This makes Russia the only country in the world that launches a domestic launch vehicle from a space center operated by another space agency.

Russia has also expressed interest in continuing partnership with the United States after the end of the ISS’s life. Nevertheless, despite significant achievements, the Russian space industry is suffering from serious corruption scandals.

In 2018, the Investigative Committee of Russia found that cases of abuse and fraud in the country’s space and defense industries reached $ 1 billion.

Roscosmos is particularly concerned about corruption. Last year, a senior official of a state corporation, who was probably connected with the internal theft scheme while under investigation, fled the country to Europe.

In the same 2019, 58 people were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment after 172 million dollars were stolen from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East. As of November 2019, only part of the lost money was returned. When asked about corruption in Roskosmos, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, Alexander Bastrykin, said that “there is no end in sight.”

In light of these problems, Roscosmos announced plans for flights for the coming decade. In a presentation for students of Moscow State University in May 2019, the head of Roscosmos announced plans to invest heavily in the development of a new manned spacecraft, as well as in the creation of a new heavy launch vehicle, and even put astronauts on the moon by 2030.

The scale of the upcoming missions will almost certainly require the country to increase its budget for space activities, which is likely to put the state corporation Roskosmos in conflict with other priorities of federal spending, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies believes.


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Editorial team / Izvestia / Michail Hodarenok

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.