DIA: Russia Sees Reliance on Space as U.S. Military’s Achilles’ Heel

Russia has focused on maintaining its own military and civil satellites on orbit and selling launch services commercially. Russia usually launches small satellites as multiple payloads on heavier rockets but sometimes uses the Rokot light-lift vehicle to launch smaller payloads into LEO. Russia’s heavy-lift vehicles are mostly used for launching into GEO or HEO. The developmental Energia SLV, designed to boost the Russian space shuttle into orbit, was discontinued in the 1980s and revived in 2016 to support proposed lunar missions. (Visualization: DIA, D3 Design)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpts on Russia

Strategy, Doctrine, and Intent

Russian military doctrine and authoritative writings clearly articulate that Russia views space as a warfighting domain and that achieving supremacy in space will be a decisive factor in winning future conflicts. Russian military thinkers believe the importance of space will continue to expand because of the growing role of precision weapons and satellite-supported information networks in all types of conflict. Meanwhile, Russia regularly expresses concern over the weaponization of space and is pursuing legal, binding space arms control agreements to curb what it sees as U.S. weaponization of outer space.

As Russia continues to modernize its military, it will increasingly incorporate space-provided services across its forces. Russia possesses a robust space program with a strong foundation of technical knowledge and expertise fostered by over 60 years of experience in space. However, Moscow wants to avoid becoming overly reliant on space to carry out its national defense mission.

Moscow views space as a key enabler of U.S. precision strike and military force projection capabilities. When paired with U.S. missile defense systems, Russia believes U.S. space-enabled, conventional precision strike capabilities undermine strategic stability. At the same time, Russia views America’s perceived dependence on space as the “Achilles heel” of U.S. military power, which can be exploited to achieve Russian conflict objectives. Russia is therefore pursuing counterspace systems to neutralize or deny U.S. space-based services, both military and commercial, as a means of offsetting a perceived U.S. military advantage and is developing an array of weapons designed to interfere with or destroy an adversary’s satellites.

Russian counterspace doctrine involves employing ground, air, and space-based systems to target an adversary’s satellites, with attacks ranging from temporary jamming or sensor blinding to destruction of enemy spacecraft and supporting infrastructure. Moscow believes developing and fielding counterspace capabilities will deter aggression by adversaries reliant upon space. If deterrence fails, Russia believes its counterspace forces will offer its military leaders the ability to control escalation of a conflict through selective targeting of adversary space systems.

Counterspace Capabilities

Space Situational Awareness. Russia’s space surveillance network, composed of a variety of telescopes, radars, and other sensors, is capable of searching for, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits. This network allows Russia to support missions including intelligence collection, counterspace targeting, spaceflight safety, satellite anomaly resolution, and space debris monitoring. Some of these sensors also perform a ballistic missile early warning function.

Electronic Warfare. The Russian military views EW as an essential tool for gaining and maintaining information superiority over its adversaries, allowing Russia to seize the operational initiative by disrupting adversary command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities. Russia has fielded a wide range of groundbased EW systems to counter GPS, tactical communications, satellite communications, and radars. Mobile jammers include radar jammers and SATCOM jammers. Russia has aspirations to develop and field a full spectrum of EW capabilities to counter Western C4ISR and weapons guidance systems with new technology, data transfer, and capabilities for peacetime and wartime use by 2020.

Directed Energy Weapons. Russia likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors. Prior to July 2018, Russia began delivering a laser weapon system to the Aerospace Forces that likely is intended for an ASAT mission. In public statements, President Vladimir Putin called it a “new type of strategic weapon,” and the Russian Defense Ministry asserted that it is capable of “fighting satellites in orbit.” Russia is also developing an airborne ASAT laser weapon system to use against space-based missile defense sensors.

Cyberspace Threats. Since at least 2010, the Russian military has prioritized the development of forces and capabilities, including cyberspace operations, for what it terms “information confrontation,” which is a holistic concept for ensuring information superiority. The weaponization of information is a key aspect of this strategy and is employed in times of peace, crisis, and war. Russia considers the information sphere to be strategically decisive and has taken steps to modernize its military’s information attack and defense organizations and capabilities.

Orbital Threats. Russia continues to research and develop sophisticated on-orbit capabilities that could serve dual-use purposes. For example, inspection and servicing satellites can be capable of closely approaching satellites to inspect and potentially fix issues causing malfunctions; this same technology could also be used to approach another country’s satellite and conduct an attack that results in temporary or permanent damage. In 2017, Russia deployed what it described as an “inspector satellite capable of diagnosing the technical condition of a Russian satellite from the closest possible distance”; however, its behavior is inconsistent with on-orbit inspection activities or space situational awareness capabilities.

Ground-based Kinetic Energy Threats. Russia likely is developing a ground-based, mobile missile system capable of destroying space targets in LEO and ballistic missiles. This weapon system is likely to be operational within the next several years.