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Historically, the Russian Navy has been an extensive user of space systems. Operating at some remove from land, the navy found a number of the characteristics of space support particularly relevant. For example, finding enemy ships and aircraft in far-flung ocean areas made space systems with wide-area-search capabilities an essential support element. For nearly 25 years, the Soviets worked to develop and integrate space capabilities into the overall concept of naval forces employment. Today, among the changes that are affecting the entire Russian military, it is instructive to trace their history of space support.
Russian writing about space over the past 30 years has been extensive. Data from the Voroshilov Academy in the 1970s indicated that space could provide support services to enhance terrestrial operations in a number of ways. Rapid, wide-area surveillance, communications support, navigation support, early warning, and targeting functions clearly fell into this area. In each case, space systems provided rapid large-area coverage and over-the-horizon access that were difficult to duplicate.
Because naval warfare generally involves a small number of discrete units in strikes and counterstrikes, space support is, in many respects, well-suited to naval tasking. The expanse of the sea is immense, and the scope for surveillance, command and control, and targeting is potentially very large.
The former Soviet Navy adapted to the USSR’s peculiar geography to limit its problems with surveillance and control, but it still would have faced prohibitive expense in providing coverage without space systems. The exits from the four main fleet areas—Northern, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea—were relatively restricted avenues, in each case controlled by potentially hostile forces. On the other hand, these seaward corridors also restricted approach, and this allowed for a conservation of forces. A relatively few space systems with the right orbits provided coverage that grew more concen-
82 trated the closer a target came to the northern latitudes of the Northern and Pacific fleets. Their data then could be passed to multiple layers of defenders providing defense-in-depth for the innermost fleet areas. Although optimized for this defensive role, space systems also could provide worldwide coverage on a less frequent basis.
A key aspect of the Soviet naval problem in the 1960s and 1970s was dealing with Western—particularly U.S.—aircraft carriers, which posed both conventional and nuclear power-projection threats to the Russian homeland. The anticarrier warfare developed by the Soviet Navy included a number of elements, but one of the most interesting was the development of an integrated space strike system for over-the-horizon attacks on carriers.
The space elements of this system included two major pieces, a passive electronic ocean reconnaissance satellite (EORSAT) and an active radar ocean reconnaissance satellite (RORSAT). Ships and submarines with surface-to-surface cruise missiles were equipped with suitable antennae, processing systems, and communications to use data from these space sensors in targeting large ships.
This over-the-horizon targeting system was unique in several respects. The use of a radar in space marked the first time an active system had been used for space surveillance. Previous space sensors had been passive, relying on emissions from the target for detection.
The new Soviet space sensors also seemed to serve complementary roles. The active system could detect large ship targets, while the passive system could detect electronic emissions that might identify a particular platform or class of platform. Thus, if the satellites were operated in coordinated fashion, both detection and identification might be possible. The active radar was also an all-weather sensor that provided detection at night or through cloud cover. Targeting-quality data also required locating information, and both systems provided (with varying accuracy) the location of
targets. As with all space systems, the accuracy was dependent on proximity °f the target to the ground trace of the sensor, among other things. Finally, these systems overcame the problem of timely delivery of targeting to the shooting plat' form by using a direct downlink from the satellite to the ship.
This system may seem to have substantial limitations, but it is important to remember that development of this striketargeting complex was begun in the early 1960s, perhaps even the late 1950s. The mix of active and passive sensors, the p°" tential for coordination, and the direct downlinks were all innovations at the time. In retrospect, this system was if many ways a model of an early reconnaissance-strike complex, a concept that has received significant new attention as technology rapidly has made such systems smarter, closer to real-time in execution, and more accurate.
Lacking an extensive organic air capability at sea, being unable to take advantage of geography to deploy wide-area sonar systems, and finding land-based aircraft in sufficient numbers to provide continuous and timely surveillance prohibitively expensive, the Soviet Navy found space surveillance essential.
Another problem for navies is the distance over which they must communicate—both between ships at sea and from ship to shore. Traditionally, navies relied on VLF, LF, and HF long-haul communications, but these suffer from propagation anomalies and fairly low data rates because of their relatively low frequencies. Satellite communications, since they generally use higher UHF or SHF frequencies, are line-of-sight systems, and these much higher frequencies are both more reliable and provide much greater band widths for data.
Once again, the Soviets took advantage of geographic circumstances by adapting the highly elliptical Molniya orbit to provide broad overlapping communications coverage of the higher latitudes where most of the former Soviet Union was located. This may have been
Proceedings / June 199*
SOVFOTO (V. KUZMIN / TASS)
A weak economy and the loss of infrastructure to newly independent states are affecting Russia’s space program. The Baikonar Cosmodrome, for example, now is available only through an agreement with the Kazakh space authority.
a case of necessity being the mother °f invention, as the Russians at first not field geosynchronous communications satellites, perhaps because of the cost and technical requirements associated with those systems. Nevertheless, from the Soviet Navy’s perspective, high-latitude coverage was a requirement that the Molniya orbit was well-suited to Provide.
In addition to the troop control 'Unctions—which included commu- mcations, surveillance, and targeting systems—characterizing the ocean environment also has been an important feature of space systems support. Although the Soviet Navy had dre largest fleet of ocean research Vessels in the world, wide-area surVeys and near-real-time characterization °f the water column were unavailable "ntil space sensors were adapted to these foies. These systems provide especially 'Important data to the submarine and an- hsubmarine warfare communities. The Soviets had an extensive program supporting such sensors in space, and the Russian Navy continues to experiment "dth them. Measurements from space Provide details on ocean eddies and fronts, temperature variations, ocean current boundaries, and surface wave and y'uke characterization, among other information. These data facilitate sensor Placement in ASW operations and support submarine operational planning to av°id detection by a variety of sensors. Soviet participation in the Polymode reSearch program—a joint U.S.-Soviet ventUre in the mid-1970s to characterize the "'estern Atlantic in the region of the Gulf stream—gave considerable aid to Soviet efforts to use such information, eventu- a>ly available from space sensors, to hide deployed submarines.
. Space systems may become even more "Uportant in the Russian Navy’s planning and operations. The loss of substantial c°astline on the Baltic and Black seas and 'fe loss of full control of the Black Sea ^leet have made surveillance much more difficult in both fleet areas. Combined 'v*th the loss of forward-deployed military forces in Eastern Europe and the loss °f control over surveillance facilities in Several of the newly independent states Ie-g., Ukraine, Lithuania), the use of sPace surveillance assets may seem even fPore attractive for the Russian military ln general, and for the navy in particular.
Another problem for the Russians is fhe loss of focus that has resulted from rapprochement with the West. Earlier "aval planners in Moscow had no trouble identifying the principal enemy and
therefore had a clearly defined threat to work against in planning surveillance and targeting. Today, with fewer forward-deployed forces and a much wider spectrum of threats, planners will need wider and more rapid area coverage from surveillance systems, and they will be less able to define the targets that need to be followed. Space systems allow broader area coverage and can be positioned quickly to respond to newly perceived threats. They may, therefore, become even more central to targeting strategies for naval planning—and, perhaps, to supporting the new mobile forces that the Russians wish to develop.
Indeed, in this time of constrained resources for the Russian military, a general military requirement for space support should make it easier for the navy to foster space system development and deployment. If such systems are perceived as fulfilling requirements for the armed forces as a whole, the navy could support them without appearing parochial and should be able to get support from the other services in the budget process. Moreover, required funding may not have to come solely from the navy’s budget.
Such a strategy may indeed be necessary, as the changes and economic problems in Russia clearly have affected the space program. The weak economy has forced a reduction in space operations and some of the infrastructure has been lost or removed from sole Russian control. For example, Russia has lost control of the Baikonar Cosmodrome in now independent Kazakhstan. It remains available for use only through an agreement with the newly formed Kazakh space authority. The launch facilities at Plesetsk in Russia traditionally have been the locus of military launch activity, but these facilities also face problems. A recent discussion in the press noted that access to
the Plesetsk facility was threatened by a movement in Arkhangelsk Oblast to create a sovereign republic. Even facilities that remain under direct Russian control are strapped for funds, and administrators are looking for Western assistance through joint projects or by providing launch services. (The first U.S. satellite launch on a Russian launch vehicle recently has been approved— an Inmarsat that will be mated to a Proton launcher.)
The Russian Navy has inherited a long tradition of innovation in the use of space to support operations. However, the ongoing decline of the economy and the concomitant political turmoil, coupled with the rapid military drawdown, have reduced the navy’s ability to respond to new—or old—requirements. Pressures on resources within the Russian Navy are immense. It may be some time before expanding the role of space in naval warfare replaces the current concern with simply feeding the troops.
Nevertheless, the stated intent of the Russian military hierarchy is to create active forces that can react rapidly to threats from any axis. As Deputy Minister of Defense Kokoshin and others recently have reiterated, the future Russian armed forces will need to be more mobile and to field higher technology systems. The navy has advocated sea-based air, submarines, and missile systems—with space providing the surveillance and communication links to form more elaborate reconnaissance-strike complexes. Such concepts fit the evolving military doctrine and take advantage of technologies that seem sensible in view of the all-aspect problem the Russians now face.
However, a look at the current situation makes any observer of the Russian Navy cautious about making estimates. The last EORSAT launched was deor- bited recently, and it may be the final satellite of that program. As recently as Desert Storm, there were six in orbit. It may be that this aging system and its radar counterpart are gone for good.
The RORSAT’s nuclear power source has been a problem over the years. The satellites had a very erratic record of useful life and on several occasions reentered the atmosphere with the fueled nuclear reactor still on board. Although these systems may be retired, other systems likely will assume their role. As the Russian space program evolves, and as joint programs expand, new technologies seem certain to become available for improving the capabilities of satellites to perform navy targeting missions. □
Proceedings / June 1993