Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Russia’s Modern Early Warning Systems

Duga-1 OTH Receiver
Source: Ingmar Runge
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed various early warning systems to detect the launch of  intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The Duga OTH (over-the-horizon) radar was a well known example. Although top secret at the time, the Duga soon got nicknamed "the woodpecker" in the West because of its characteristic repetitive tapping noise that disrupted HF utility and communications signals across the world. By the mid-1980s it became clear that the Duga's technology at the time was inadequate. More about the Duga radar in our Mysterious Cold War Signals.

With the Duga radars no longer operational, what other systems protected the Soviet Union and now Russia? The SPRN System Warning on Missile Attack (Rus. Sistema Preduprezhdeniya o Raketnom Napadenii) consist of both satellites and land-based radar.

Early Soviet Satellite Program
The Soviet Око program (Eng. eye) to develop early warning satellites was already initiated in the late 1960s. Its first US-K satellite Космос-520 (Eng. Cosmos) was launched in 1972. To this day, all early warning satellites are designated Космос, followed by a three or four-digit number.

This first generation US-K Managed Satellite Continental (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontinental'nyy) was placed in a highly elliptical Molniya orbit.  The similar US-KS Managed Satellite Continental Stationary (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontinental'nyy Statsionarnyy) was placed in geosynchronous orbit. More on orbits in the further reading links.

US-K and US-KS Satellite
The first 13 US-K satellites, launched between 1972 and 1979, were very unreliable and short-lived. The following US-K and US-KS satellites were launched from 1979, with the first combat ready in 1982. In total, 86 US-K and 7 US-KS satellites were launched between 1972 and 2010. The large number of satellites was due to their limited lifespan, on average 2 to 4 years, largely determined by their liquid-fuel reserve for the orbit correction engines.

They carried a stabilized infrared telescope with 50 cm mirror to detect missile exhaust heat and were also equipped with multiple smaller telescopes. They didn't always work flawlessly, with dangerous consequences, as you can read in our 3 Seconds from World War 3.

Second Generation Око-1 with Issues

The second generation satellites from the Око-1 program launched between 1991 and 2012 eight US-KMO Managed Satellite Control Ocean Seas (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontrol' Morey Okeanov) in a geosynchronous orbit, with an expected lifespan of 5 to 7 years, which they never lived up to.

US-KMO Satellite
Source: Novosti Kosmonavtik
The US-KMO had a 100 cm mirror and could also detect submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). However, they proved very unreliable to detect such missile launches and several failed after a few months.  They are no longer operational since 2014. Only two older US-KS satellites remained in orbit.
The Unified Space System

From 2015 on, the US-КMO satellites were gradually replaced by the new generation Tundra satellites (Тундра), part of the EKS Unified Space System - Detection and Combat Control (Rus. Edinoy Kosmicheskoy Sistemy - Obnaruzheniya i Boyevogo Upravleniya), also known as Kupol (Купол).
A this moment, five Tundra satellites are in a Molniya orbit, despite the satellite's name suggesting the highly elliptical geosynchronous Tundra orbit (taking a full sidereal day) which has a closed figure 8 ground track with a small fast loop and a large slow loop (apogee dwell). Tundra's large slow loop provides very long coverage of the designated area, requiring only two satellites for continuous cover versus three with Molniya orbit (half a sidereal day). The Molniya orbit might be chosen because it requires less launch energy than a Tundra orbit (a sidereal day is one Earth rotation of 23h 56m 04s).

At Gunter's Space Page more details on the US-K, UK-KS, US-KMO and Tundra satellites. The US-K was carried in orbit with the Molniya-M launcher, both US-KS and US-KMO with the Proton-K launcher, and the Tundra with Soyuz-2-1b Fregat. The contractor for most of the satellites is Kometa Corporation (translation), previously known as TsNII Kometa. The Tundra is manufactured by RKK Energia.

Today's Early Warning Radar

The Russian Federation also revived the long-distance early warning capabilities to track ballistic missiles with a new generation of radar, called 77Ya6 Voronezh (Rus. 77Я6 Воронеж). The NIIDAR scientific research institute initiated its research for early warning radar in the late 1970s.

The Voronezh  is a line-of-sight phased array radar, a fixed antenna that directs its radar beam electronically. There are five different types. The Voronezh-M (VHF), DM (UHF), VP (high-power VHF), SM (SHF) and MSM (dual VHF-SHF). They have a range up to 6000 km (3728 mi) and can track 500 targets simultaniously. The first Voronezh on actual combat duty operates since 2009. Meanwhile, seven of ten planned radars are operational across Russia.

Voronezh-M Radar in Lekhtusi, Leningrad region (source Russian Army)

The Voronezh is  the first radar of VZG High Factory Readiness (Rus. Vysokoy Zavodskoy Gotovnosti). Its factory-made modular structures allow fast construction, between one and two years. More technical information and many detailed images of the Voronezh radar at Military Russia blog (translation) and at New Defense Order (translation).

One Voronezh-DM radar is located near Pionersky, a city in the Kaliningrad oblast. This is a quite unique but smartly chosen location, as Kaliningrad is today completely surrounded by Poland and Lithuania, two EU countries that are also NATO members.

Kaliningrad was previously the East Prussian city Königsberg, part of Germany. After the Second World War, Kaliningrad became part of the Soviet Union and the Kaliningrad oblast became an administrative part of the Russian Federation in 1991. This required special travel arrangements for the inhabitants, enclosed between Poland and Lithuania. An early warning system for nuclear missiles inside the territory of the main adversary? That's as close as it gets!

на новой суперсовременной РЛС семейства Воронеж
State-of-the-art radar of Voronezh family (auto-translate available)

50 лет назад создана система предупреждения о ракетном нападении
Missile attack warning system created 50 years ago
(auto-translate available)

Further Reading and Technical Details

Satellites and Orbits
Early Warning Systems
         Satellite Manufacturers

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