Russia gears up for electronic warfare in space (part 2)
by Bart Hendrickx
|Whatever the true purpose of OREST was, space-based electronic warfare was included as an objective in a long-term policy for Russia’s electronic warfare program approved by the Russian government in January 2012.|
Nevertheless, another project with the name OREST got underway on July 31, 2007, under a government contract concluded between the Ministry of Defense and RKK Energiya, best known as a manufacturer of Russian crewed spacecraft. Although nothing has ever been revealed about its purpose, the identical name would suggest that it was a revival of the Soviet-era proposal or an adapted version of it. All that is known about OREST comes from a handful of court documents and company annual reports. Also known as 14K040, the project envisaged the launch of experimental satellites called Filin (“eagle owl“) that would operate in conjunction with a ground-based segment developed by PAO Radiofizika. It was canceled in 2010 because it had “lost its relevance”.
Whatever the true purpose of OREST was, space-based electronic warfare was included as an objective in a long-term policy for Russia’s electronic warfare program approved by the Russian government in January 2012. A summary of this policy published online mentions the need to deploy “multifunctional space-based EW complexes for reconnaissance and suppression of radio-electronic systems used by radar, navigation and communications systems.”
In early 2015, Igor Nasenkov, a deputy director of the KRET holding, revealed that some of its companies were engaged in developing an “integrated multifunctional airborne and space-based electronic warfare system” designed to “protect military technology from detection and destruction”, but also “to knock out and suppress the enemy’s radio-electronic systems.” Nasenkov said the system, which he called unrivaled in the world, was seen as an “asymmetric response” to the development of new American “airborne and space-based combat systems” as well as the deployment of a US anti-missile system in Europe. He said the space-based component of the system was classified, admitting only that KRET was working on “specialized on-board equipment for a future electronic warfare satellite.” A similar statement was made by a KRET representative at the Aero India 2015 airshow in Bangalore in February 2015. Remarkably enough, another deputy general director of KRET, Yuriy Mayevskiy, contradicted his colleagues several months later by declaring that placing EW payloads into space would violate international law.
The KRET officials were possibly referring to a nuclear-powered satellite called Ekipazh (meaning both “crew” and “horse-drawn carriage”). Also designated 14F350, this is being developed by KB Arsenal in St.-Petersburg under a contract signed with the Ministry of Defense on August 13, 2014. Ekipazh appears to be an outgrowth of a nuclear-powered satellite platform called Plazma-2010 and will be equipped with a thermionic nuclear reactor of the Krasnaya Zvezda organization that is referred to in a handful of procurement documents as “Product 295”. Articles published by KB Arsenal in official electronic warfare yearbooks for 2014, 2015, and 2016 outline plans for nuclear-powered satellites using the Plazma-2010 platform that could be used for electronic warfare “in and from space,” suggesting they could be used against both space-based and ground-based targets. The presence of a nuclear reactor would make it possible to install “jammers operating on a wide range of frequencies” and place such payloads into highly elliptical and geostationary orbits for “uninterrupted suppression of electronic systems in large areas.” The spacecraft would be delivered to their operational orbits by an electric propulsion unit that would also be powered by the nuclear reactor. The EW mission would require a reactor generating at least 30 to 40 kilowatts, allowing the satellites to be launched by the Soyuz-2.1b rocket. For more advanced EW missions, the performance would have to be increased to 100 kilowatts, necessitating a switch to the more powerful Angara-A5 rocket. In late 2014, KB Arsenal’s director Andrei Romanov hinted at the company’s interest in a mission of this type, saying that it was focusing on space-based “armament systems” that would meet the demands of “future warfare.” Also noteworthy is that a PhD dissertation related to Ekipazh was reviewed among others by a specialist of the Gagarin Air Force Academy’s research institute for electronic warfare, based in Voronezh.
An electronic warfare satellite proposed by KB Arsenal in launch and orbital configuration. (credit: Russian electronic warfare yearbook for 2015.)
Ekipazh is not to be confused with an ambitious project to develop a one-megawatt space-based nuclear reactor, a joint effort by Roscosmos and the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation which started in 2010. KB Arsenal became involved in this project in 2014, acting as a subcontractor to the Keldysh Research Institute. In November 2017, KB Arsenal was assigned to perform a research project called “Yadro” (“core”) with the goal of studying possible missions for the reactor. This would have to result in determining technical specifications for satellites with a reactor capacity ranging from 100 kilowatts to one megawatt to be developed under a follow-on effort called Nuklon. Tender documentation for Yadro released online mentioned electronic warfare as one of the potential missions along with remote sensing, communications, interorbital transport, and directed energy transfer using lasers. The electronic warfare payloads would have to be capable of interfering with “control, intelligence, communications and navigation systems.” The Solar System missions widely advertised for the one-megawatt reactor in the early years of the project were notably absent from the objectives, although Roscosmos did recently unveil plans for a one-megawatt reactor by the name Nuklon that is supposed to fly to Jupiter in the early 2030s. More details on Ekipazh and the one-megawatt reactor can be found in an in-depth article published here last year.
A key aspect of electronic warfare is the collection of intelligence on an adversary’s electronic systems. Russia is currently constructing three ground-based signals intelligence (SIGINT) sites intended to pick up and analyze radio signals emitted by foreign satellites flying over Russian territory. These will complement the information obtained by the optical telescopes and radars that constitute the country’s Space Surveillance System (SKKP). Although they have not been specifically linked to Russia’s EW program, the intelligence gathered by these sites could potentially be used to help prepare electronic attacks against foreign satellites.
|Although they have not been specifically linked to Russia’s EW program, the intelligence gathered by these sites could potentially be used to help prepare electronic attacks against foreign satellites.|
The SIGINT facilities are being built under a project known as Sledopyt (“pathfinder”), the existence of which was first revealed in 2013 by the commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces Aleksandr V. Golovko, who called it “a network of specialized complexes to monitor radio-emitting spacecraft.” In an interview published in March 2015, another Russian military official disclosed that construction of these sites was getting underway in the Moscow, Kaliningrad, Altai, and Primorskiy regions and that they would replace a mobile satellite SIGINT system known as Moment. Also known as 14G6, only one of these is believed to have been deployed, several kilometers to the south of Noginsk-9 (also known as Dubrovo), a small military town about 60 kilometers east of Moscow which is home to the headquarters of Russia’s space surveillance network. Moment consists of five dish antennas, some of which can be seen in a Russian TV report aired in 2015. Available information indicates that Moment was conceived back in the 1990s, but didn’t become operational until early this century. There were plans for an upgraded system called Moment-M, but these do not seem to have materialized.
Screenshot from a Russian TV report showing three antennas of the Moment SIGINT complex situated south of Noginsk-9. Source
While nothing more has been publicly revealed about Sledopyt, a significant amount of information on the project can be gleaned from openly available procurement and court documents. These show that the project officially got underway on July 24, 2009, with a contract awarded to the Radio Research and Development Institute (NIIR) and is also called 14Ts032 (14Ц032 in Cyrillic). Original plans called for the construction of four sites with the general code name “1511”:
The first site (1511/1) is situated in the immediate vicinity of the Moment complex. Two others (1511/2 and 1511/4) are located right next to satellite tracking facilities. Building contracts for the four sites were awarded by the Ministry of Defense in 2015. All of them are visible in Google Earth imagery, except for 1511/3. According to one court document, construction of 1511/3 had to be suspended at an early stage after an archeological discovery was made on the planned building site. However, 1511/3 was still included in a contract signed earlier this year for systems needed to transmit data between the Sledopyt sites and the space surveillance headquarters in Noginsk-9, indicating it has not yet been canceled.
The Sledopyt sites have a similar lay-out and consist of separately located antenna complexes to pick up satellite signals with low frequencies (IPK-N or “502”), medium frequencies (IPK-S or “503”) and high frequencies (IPK-V or “504”) as well as an H-shaped “technical building” (“501”) to collect and relay the obtained information. Also part of the SIGINT complexes is a structure 70 meters high referred to as a “calibration tower” (also called “505”) which is situated about one to two kilometers from the main site.
Map of the 1511/1 Sledopyt site published in procurement documentation. Source
The 1511/1 Sledopyt site, situated about two kilometers south of Noginsk-9, is seen in this Google Earth image taken on June 14, 2020.
Drawing of the calibration tower for the 1511/4 site published in procurement documentation. Source
The calibration tower of the 1511/1 SIGINT complex, situated about one kilometer south of the main site, casts a long shadow in this Google Earth image taken on June 4, 2020. Just to the north of the tower are the dish antennas of the older Moment SIGINT complex.
Several technical papers on ground-based satellite signals intelligence written by specialists of the Mozhaiskiy Military Space Academy in St.-Petersburg are likely related to Sledopyt. One of them was co-authored by an engineer involved in a “construction project” at Noginsk-9, a clear reference to the 1511/1 site. The articles note that SIGINT systems offer advantages in satellite identification over radar system, which are restricted to observing low-orbiting satellite, and optical telescopes, which may be hampered by poor meteorological and atmospheric conditions. They can be used to study various features of satellite signals such as their spectral characteristics, frequency range, polarization, and radiation pattern, which in turn can provide information on such things as the type of antennas carried, the satellite’s orientation in space, and the sort of data it collects and sends back to Earth. The articles describe a three-step digital processing technique that makes it possible to extract telltale information from the signals about the satellite’s nature and capabilities. One of the papers focuses in particular on observations of radar-equipped remote sensing satellites, a possible indication that foreign military radar reconnaissance satellites such as the American Lacrosse and Topaz satellites will become prime targets for Sledopyt.
Google Earth imagery indicates that there has been little, if any, progress in the construction of the three Sledopyt sites in the past two years or so and none of them is likely to be fully operational yet. Court documentation confirms that there have been serious delays in the project, which are at least partially due to Western-imposed economic sanctions. The July 2009 contract between the Ministry of Defense and NIIR was even annulled in November 2018. A new contract concluded between the two parties on March 20, 2019, presumably set new timelines for the project. In a recent interview, the head of the space surveillance headquarters, Sergei Suchkov, mentioned the development of a system to pick up radio signals from satellites (most likely Sledopyt) as one of the goals to be accomplished as part of a program to modernize Russia’s space surveillance network before 2025.
Additional signals intelligence on foreign satellites is possibly being collected by a satellite called Olimp-K/Luch, launched on September 28, 2014. For the past six years or so, the satellite has been drifting across the geostationary belt and has parked near more than a dozen commercial communications satellites for periods ranging from several weeks to several months. It would appear to be the Russian equivalent of two top-secret American signals intelligence satellites launched in 2009 and 2014 and variously referred to as PAN, CLIO, and Nemesis.
Another project related to Russia’s electronic warfare program is called Tobol (the name of a river running through both Russia and Kazakhstan), also designated 14Ts227 (14Ц227 in Cyrillic). Infrastructure for this project with the code name “8282” is being built at a number of satellite tracking facilities belonging to Russia’s so-called Command and Measurement Complex (KIK), which is operated by the Ministry of Defense. The following Tobol sites are mentioned in publicly available documentation (also given are the numbers of the satellite tracking facilities (NIP) where they are located as well as the military units operating those facilities):
There is no sign in the documentation of a site called 8282/2. However, some documents mention the construction of infrastructure for Tobol near Krasnoznamensk (Moscow region) and Maloyarоslavets (Kaluga region), referring to it as 8282/OKR. Krasnoznamensk is home to the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center, the main control center for Russia’s fleet of uncrewed satellites. Maloyarоslavets (more specifically a nearby place called Kudinovo) is the location of the NIP-8 satellite tracking station (operated by military unit 34122).
|None of the publicly accessible documents reveal anything about the exact purpose of Tobol. However, the fact that the infrastructure is co-located with satellite tracking facilities would indicate that it is aimed at protecting Russian satellites from electronic attack rather than launching electronic attacks against foreign satellites.|
An official document containing a list of military construction projects identifies 8282/7 as one in a series of “electronic warfare complexes for space-related purposes.” The prime contractor for Tobol is Russian Space Systems (RKS), a Moscow-based company that plays a leading role in developing hardware for satellite tracking stations. A government contract for what is called Tobol-1 was signed between the Ministry of Defense and RKS on May 3, 2012, but there are some indications that the project may have started earlier than that. In some court documents, Tobol is also linked to two government contracts signed between the same two parties on December 30, 2013, although at least one of those seems to have been for general work on Russia’s satellite ground control network in the period 2014–2016 rather than being specifically related to Tobol. As can be determined from various company annual reports, RKS’s subcontractors for Tobol include the Vladimir Design Bureau of Radio Communications (the prime contractor for Tirada-2), the Special Technological Center (STTs), and NPO PM-Razvitiye, all three of which are involved in Russia’s EW program.
Building contracts for most of the Tobol sites make it possible to determine that the work involves both the adaptation of existing buildings and the construction of new infrastructure. The latter includes what are literally called “radiotechnical positions” (RTP) that are part of “stationary specialized complexes” (SSK). These consist of a number of dish antennas, with documentation for the 8282/3 and 8282/5 sites giving antenna diameters of 2 , 7.3, and 9.1 meters. Also part of the new infrastructure are transformer substations and diesel power stations, presumably to generate power for the RTPs. A recent PowerPoint presentation that somehow ended up online provides an update on the construction of 8282/3 near Ulan-Ude and shows the site’s layout, making it possible to locate the complex on Google Earth.
Drawing of the 8282/3 site near Ulan-Ude. The buildings with dish antennas in positions 1 and 2 existed before the start of the Tobol project. The core of Tobol appears to be an array of dish antennas and towers seen in position 6. Source
Some of the dish antennas of the 8282/3 Tobol complex. Source
Google Earth image of the 8282/3 site at NIP-13 near Ulan-Ude (image taken on July 6, 2019).
A similar looking site can be seen in images of the NIP-4 satellite tracking facility near Yeniseisk, which is the location of 8282/5.
Google Earth image of what is probably the 8282/5 site at NIP-4 near Yeniseisk (image taken on May 20, 2019).
No obvious signs of Tobol-related construction work are seen in imagery of the other sites. This could be indicative of delays, but it is also possible that at some of the sites the work is largely limited to adapting existing infrastructure and is therefore hard to pick up in satellite imagery. Documents for the sites near Pionerskiy and Armavir (8282/6 and 8282/7) describe the Tobol hardware there as being mobile, with some of them saying that the hardware for 8282/6 will be co-deployed with Fazan and Varan. These are the names of truck-mounted satellite tracking systems that are known to be based at both locations. The site near Pionerskiy is situated in the immediate vicinity of the 1511/2 Sledopyt SIGINT site and the one near Armavir is located right next to a Voronezh-DM type early warning radar complex.
None of the publicly accessible documents reveal anything about the exact purpose of Tobol. However, the fact that the infrastructure is co-located with satellite tracking facilities would indicate that it is aimed at protecting Russian satellites from electronic attack rather than launching electronic attacks against foreign satellites. With electronic protection being considered an integral part of electronic warfare, such an objective would still fit Tobol’s description as a network of “electronic warfare complexes.” The Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center near Krasnoznamensk, which, judging from the aforementioned PowerPoint presentation, plays a coordinating role in the Tobol project, has an electronic warfare division that is engaged in the electronic protection of both tracking stations and orbiting satellites. One of its tasks since the 1970s has been to ensure the proper functioning of Russian satellites in case they are attacked by ground-based and air-based jamming systems of “the likely adversary.”
One clue about the project’s goals comes from the review of a PhD dissertation published in 2013. This says that 14Ts227 has equipment to monitor signals of navigation satellites with the aim of protecting them against “narrowband interference.” More specifically, it is capable of determining “the modulation of navigation signals with 90% accuracy at a signal-to-noise ratio of 30 decibels.” The review was written by Vladimir M. Vatutin, who heads a department within Russian Space Systems and is identified in the PowerPoint presentation on the 8282/3 site as Tobol’s chief designer.
Over the years, Vatutin has co-authored several papers and patents that are apparently related to the protection of satellites from electronic attack. Some of the patents describe an array of ground-based antennas that would be used to pick up and jam what are called “unauthorized signals” sent to satellites or relayed via satellites to the ground. They would make use of an effect known as tropospheric scatter in which some of the energy of a signal passing through the troposphere is reflected back to Earth. In one of the proposals, unauthorized signals uplinked to a satellite would be picked up by a so-called “tropospheric station” and instantaneously analyzed to create jamming signals that would be beamed up to the satellite to suppress the unauthorized signals.
In another scenario, unauthorized signals downlinked from a satellite to the ground would be identified by “monitoring stations,” following which the tropospheric stations would transmit jamming signals that would reach receivers after being reflected off the troposphere and cancel out the effects of the unauthorized signals. The advantage of these seemingly cumbersome techniques is that they obviate the need to install anti-jamming systems aboard the satellites themselves. Schematic representations of the proposed systems depict Glonass navigation satellites as the targets of the unauthorized signals, but they are not specifically mentioned in the accompanying patent descriptions and may just be used as an example. It is not clear, however, if there is any link between Tobol and the systems presented in these patents.
Drawing from a 2016 patent co-authored by Tobol’s chief designer. “Unauthorized signals” (designated S(t)) sent to a satellite are partially reflected by the troposphere (5), picked up by a “tropospheric station“ (7) and analyzed, following which jamming signals (Sn(t)) are sent to the satellite to nullify the effects of the unauthorized signals. Source
Another sign that Tobol has something to do with electronic protection comes in RKS’s procurement plan for 2015, where the Russian abbreviation for electronic protection (REZ) is linked to “radiotechnical positions” for something called 14Ts225, which appears to be part of 14Ts227.
|Since the beginning of this century, Russia has been gradually building up a capability to perform electronic warfare against orbiting satellites.|
If the Tobol sites are indeed intended to defend Russian satellites against electronic attack, they would have to perform that task only for satellites that are in view of Russian ground stations but would still be vulnerable to electronic attack from outside the country’s borders. This makes the high-orbiting Glonass navigation satellites as well as geostationary communications satellites the only likely candidates for the electronic protection role. Russian communications satellites in particular could be targeted by the top-secret US Counter Communications System (CCS), a mobile space electronic warfare system that can be deployed globally to deny adversary satellite communications. The first two CCS units are believed to have been delivered in 2004. The latest upgrade, called Block 10.2, was officially announced as “the first offensive weapon system assigned to the United States Space Force.” The United States is also likely to possess advanced systems for downlink jamming or spoofing of satellite navigation signals in a local geographic area.
Although Tobol would seem to have a defensive rather than an offensive role, Russian Space Systems is also doing research on electronic attack systems. A paper published in the company’s corporate magazine last year (and also co-authored by Vatutin) discusses the possibility of using EW techniques to prevent both optical and radar reconnaissance satellites from sending images to data relay satellites as they fly over foreign territory. This proposal reflects the growing interest in the use of EW systems to counter foreign reconnaissance assets. The paper caught enough attention to be picked up by several Russian media early this year, after which it was removed from RKS’ website.
Since the beginning of this century, Russia has been gradually building up a capability to perform electronic warfare against orbiting satellites. There is convincing evidence that at least four ground-based mobile electronic warfare systems have the ability to interfere with satellite operations, with two of them (Tirada-2 and Bylina-MM) focusing on communications satellites and two others (Krasukha-4 and Divnomorye) on radar reconnaissance satellites. Tirada-2, which comes in at least four versions (Tirada-2S, 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4), and Bylina-MM together seem to cover most of the frequency bands used by communications satellites. Work may also be underway on a ground-based EW system (KRBSS) targeted against LEO satellite constellations as well as an airborne system (Porubshchik-2) with an electronic warfare counterspace capability. A nuclear-powered satellite (14F350/Ekipazh) under development at KB Arsenal may well be designed to carry the first ever space-based EW payload. Intelligence in support of these EW systems may be collected by three SIGINT complexes currently under construction at various locations in Russia as part of the Sledopyt project. In addition to that, infrastructure being built at a number of Russian satellite tracking facilities under the Tobol project may be intended to protect Russian satellites from electronic attack.
The EW systems operating in the radio band of the electromagnetic spectrum will be complemented by ground-based and airborne laser systems (Peresvet, Kalina, and Sokol-Eshelon) designed to dazzle or blind satellite sensors. Besides all that, Russia is also continuing the development of more traditional kinetic ASAT weapons. A ground-based direct-ascent ASAT system called Nudol has undergone test flights since 2014. Speculation that a surface-to-air missile called S-500/Prometei can also be used against satellites was confirmed by the commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin in an interview published this summer. A mobile anti-satellite “strike system” referred to by one Russian military official as Rudolf may be yet another ground-based kinetic counterspace weapon. Work is also in full swing on an air-launched co-orbital ASAT system named Burevestnik. This includes the construction of new infrastructure at the airport of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, most likely to support flights of the system’s MiG-31BM carrier aircraft. Finally, high-speed objects ejected from two Russian satellites (Kosmos-2521 and Kosmos-2543) in October 2017 and July 2020 may well have been tests of another orbital ASAT system, possibly under a project named Nivelir. Few of these systems seem to have reached operational maturity yet, but once they do, they should give Russia a counterspace capability unmatched by that of any other country in the world.
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