Daily Archives: May 17, 2010

Is Alarm About Aerospace Defense Warranted?

In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, Viktor Litovkin tries to reconcile Kornukov’s and Sitnov’s extremely pessimistic views on the state and future of Russian aerospace defense with the optimistic ones of Colonel Sigalov, whom Ekho Moskvy interviewed on Saturday.  He’s commander of the 5th VKO Brigade based in Moscow Oblast, responsible for defending the capital.

Litovkin notes the retired generals’ roles as defense industry lobbyists, their defense of business interests, and efforts to acquire new orders.  And for his part, the colonel could never imagine or admit a chance that his troops won’t be able to carry out their missions.  What kind of commander would he be?

But the situation in the realm of air defense, and even more in anti-missile defense, is very complicated.  Yes, the troops of Sigalov’s brigade are ready to open fire on air-breathing enemy forces with 10 minutes warning.  But repulsing strikes from space is much more complex.  The troops simply lack the weapons systems to do it.  And this threat doesn’t exist yet.

So is there a contradiction or not?  Litovkin reminds that military men judge not just the current potential of probable enemies, but their ‘technical-technological possibilities’ as well.  And these are alarming.  According to Litovkin, many leading countries are working on ‘the problems of space weapons’ (although he mentions just China’s ASAT capability and the U.S. X-37B orbiter). 

And Russia has no response yet beyond the much talked about S-500 system, which, says Litovkin, lives now on paper only, and two (and maybe six more by some time in 2011) S-400 battalions around Moscow.  Litovkin claims the Defense Ministry will not order more S-400s after that.  Recall Almaz-Antey chief Ashurbeyli complaining on 30 April that the Defense Ministry has not signed contracts for S-400 production in 2012.

Litovkin says this might have caused genuine alarm in the two retired generals.  He speculates there could be more delays in producing missiles for the S-400 as well as for the S-500, which will need to operate against targets in near space.  Finally, he notes that, although the military doctrine contains an understanding of VKO, there’s still no Defense Ministry organization responsible for it.

On balance, it sounds like Litovkin believes Kornukov’s and Sitnov’s concerns are genuine, rather than commercially motivated.

Yuriy Gavrilov, writing in Rossiyskaya gazeta, concludes that recent talk about VKO means that Russia has to take immediate measures, or allow the distance between itself and the U.S. to increase each year.  He gives a little useful history.  Yeltsin’s 1993 decree said to create VKO, but the establishment of OSK VKO and VKO brigades amounted to little beyond changing the names of existing units, without changing their command, control, subordination, or weapons systems. 

Kornukov mentioned VKO relies on S-300s, MiG-29s, and Su-27s, and the few deployed S-400s, which still need work and rely on a single suitable missile.  All of which means, while waiting for the S-500, Russia has no real system for intercepting medium- and short-range ballistic missiles at an altitude up to 200 kilometers, or hypersonic cruise missiles.

Gavrilov quotes Sitnov:

“To develop modern systems that cover air and space, to develop new satellites for reconnaissance, and comms relay, missile attack warning, a super-modern component base, new materials, powders, new developments in the area of command and control are required.”

But that’s not all.  Gavrilov says VKO also needs one master, but aviation and PVO belong to the Air Forces, while anti-missile defense, missile attack warning systems, and control of Russia’s orbital grouping belong to the Space Troops.  Kornukov and Sitnov argue for giving it all to the VVS.

And Gavrilov says time is short.  By 2030, hypersonic and air-space vehicles, sixth generation UAVs, as well as weapons ‘based on new physical principles’ will already be in foreign inventories.

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Aerospace Defense in Disarray

Retired Army General Kornukov

While Russian air and aerospace defenders were meeting in Tver last week, former Air Forces (VVS) CINC, Army General Anatoliy Kornukov gave Interfaks his opinions in a Moscow news conference.  

Kornukov is a member of a group calling themselves the ‘Extradepartmental Expert Council on the Problems of RF Aerospace Defense.’  He also advises the General Director of Almaz-Antey. 

He called aerospace threats the greatest danger for Russia’s security.  He said: 

“An attack from space decides everything now, strikes from space can be delivered to any point on Earth.” 

Kornukov thinks Russia’s aerospace defense (VKO or ВКО) concept’s been thought over long enough, and: 

“Unfortunately, there are still few practical decisions and concrete results.  New air defense systems are being developed very slowly.” 

“We, unfortunately, created a time lag of 20-30 years behind our possible enemy.” 

The ex-CINC says, although the VKO concept was approved in 2006, little has changed: 

“Years pass, but everything stays the same.  And to say that we’re ready for something now would be an exaggeration.  We can now resist an air attack from the standpoint of remaining S-300 systems.  As well as with those residual Su-27 and MiG-29 aircraft, the majority of which lack engines and spare parts.  The picture is simply terrible.” 

He also noted that new systems are progressing slowly, and are entering the armed forces’ inventory even more slowly.  He believes the Operational-Strategic Command of Aerospace Defense (OSK VKO or ОСК ВКО–the old Moscow Air and Air Defense District) can only destroy 1 in 5 targets: 

“If the reliability earlier was 96 or 98 percent, then now the effectiveness [of systems in the inventory] is in the range of 15-20 percent.  What’s meant is how many aircraft of 100 could get through without being countered.  Now about 80.” 

Kornukov recommends establishing VKO under the VVS, and under PVO specifically.  For example, he’d like the Moscow-based OSK VKO to control its own missile-space defense (RKO or РКО) formations and units.  He says: 

“Once all missile-space defense was in one set of hands–the PVO CINC.  He answered for PVO and for RKO.  Now the thinking is inexplicable:  each is dying by itself.  There’s not a person defined as responsible even for air defense.” 

“I think the correct decision would be for everything  to be located in one set of hands, and one person answering for the condition, training, employment [of PVO means]. 

He reminded the audience that, once the province of PVO, control of anti-missile defense went first to the RVSN, and now resides with the Space Troops.  Olga Bozhyeva reported that Kornukov wants RKO, specifically the 3rd Missile Attack Warning System Army to come to the Air Forces, and the latter should change its name to reflect its aerospace orientation.  He doesn’t like the idea of creating a new armed service called aerospace troops that would control PVO.  

Asked about Russia’s ability to defend against potential missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, Kornukov called the country’s capability to counter these threats ‘limited.’  He said, although the S-400 can cope with air-breathing threats, Moscow has no means for countering ‘operational’ (i.e. intermediate-range) missiles. 

Other members of the ‘Extradepartmental Expert Council’ had their say as well.  Former chief of PVO’s equipment ordering directorate General-Major Kolganov said: 

“. . . the VKO concept developed several years ago is not supported today organizationally or financially.  There is no targeted program for its realization.” 

Former Armaments Chief General-Colonel Anatoliy Sitnov says: 

“. . . in Russia they remembered about VKO only after the U.S. began to test the X-37 orbital glider.   . . . everyone’s occupied with a general assimilation of budget resources, and not at all with the development of new strategic technologies for modern space systems, reconnaissance, [and] missile attack warning satellites . . . .  This can’t come from a private businessman.  He comes to grab some budget money and sell what’s been made for scrap.” 

“We lost 300 super-technologies, primarily in aviation and air defense.  In particular, in the production of supergraphite, which is used in nose cones for missiles . . . .” 

Sitnov also criticizes poor organization for VKO: 

“There is no one to be in command, no one to command and control forces and means, no one to commission new air defense systems.” 

“It is time to move from words to deeds, to take purposeful directions and targeted programs for developing new aerospace defense systems.” 

“But we are waiting for someone to come and help us.  No one will.” 

Kornukov is an old PVO guy–albeit an Air Defense Aviation pilot; he was the first CINC of the VVS after it subsumed PVO.  Maybe he, and the others, are just shilling for Almaz-Antey to get even more from the State Defense Order.  Or perhaps their assessments are sincere.