UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


1981-1987 Soviet Space Weapons
ASAT and Directed Energy Systems

For many years the Soviet Union resolutely maintained that there was no military component to their space program. In recent years they have modified their stance and referred to certain military programs beyond those implied in the phrase "national technical means" which had been used in connection with negotiation and verification of arms control agreements.

In addition to the reference to RORSATs at the Pugwash Confer­ence, TASS reported in 1985 that:

The Soviet Union is carrying out research, including military research, but it is not aimed at developing attack space weapons but is related to the improvement of early warning, surveillance, communications, and navigational space systems. 31

A few weeks earlier, Colonel General Nikolai Chervov revealed during arms control talks in Geneva, Switzerland, that the Soviet Union had successfully tested an ASAT system, but described it as a direct ascent ASAT, the testing of which began in the late 1970s and continued against "imaginary points outside the atmosphere" until 1982. 32 He disputed U.S, assertions about tests of a co-orbital ASAT (see below) against Soviet satellites.

Later in 1985, the Soviets admitted conducting their own Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) laboratory research. 33


The Soviet Union conducted 20 tests of its co-orbital ASAT in the years between 1968 and 1982 with varying degrees of success. Initially, radar sensors were used by the interceptors to detect the target satellites but, beginning with Cosmos 886 in December 1976, some tests were conducted using an unjammable infra-red optical sensor. Remarkably, not one of the six tests using the supposedly improved sensor is believed to have been successful. A table detailing all known tests is provided in chapter 1 (table 5).

At the same time they submitted a draft treaty to ban space weapons for consideration by the United Nations in August, 1983, the Soviet Union unilaterally declared a moratorium on the testing of ASATs. This was timed to exert pressure on the United States not to proceed with the testing of the miniature homing vehicle (MHV) designed for launch from an F-15. As a result of this there have been no further tests of the Soviet co-orbital ASAT since the apparently unsuccessful test in mid-1982.

On September 5, 1985, eight days before the successful U.S. test of the MHV against an object in space, the Soviet Union warned that if the United States were to conduct such a test, it would consider itself released from its unilateral commitment not to deploy ASAT weapons in space. 34

Following the test, which resulted in the destruction of the aged U.S. Air Force P78-1 Solwind satellite, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was reported to have said that the moratorium was null and void. 35 However, in December 1985, the U.S. Congress banned U.S. ASAT tests against objects in space until October 1986, and subsequently extended the ban through October 1988. 36

Although there have been no tests of the Soviet co-orbital ASAT since June, 1982, the F-l launch vehicle has been flown, on average, five times a year from 1984 through 1987, in support of the EORSAT and RORSAT programs. In 1984, it was reported that additional ASAT storage facilities had been provided at Tyuratam. 37

Some details of the Tyuratam facility and estimates of its capability and ASAT performance were given in the U.S. Department of Defense pamphlet The Soviet Space Challenge. In describing "the world's only currently operational ASAT system" it states,

Using a radar sensor and a pellet-type warhead, the interceptor can attack all current low-altitude satellites. . . . The interceptor can reach targets orbiting at an altitude of more than 5,000 kilometers, but it probably is intended for high priority satellites at lower altitudes.

The antisatellite interceptor is launched from Tyuratam where two launch pads and storage space for many interceptors and launch vehicles are available. Several interceptors could be launched each day from each of the pads.

Soviet references to their ASAT include an assertion that their ASAT tests had been halted following the 1983 unilateral moratorium 39 and the director of the Space Research Institute in Moscow, Dr. Roald Sagdeyev, confirmed during a press conference condemning the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative that the Soviet Union had tested a co-orbital ASAT between 1968 and 1982. 40


The U.S. Department of Defense annual Soviet Military Power publications have provided details on a variety of directed energy weapons including lasers, particle beams and high power microwaves, which it asserts are under development as ASAT weapons. These are summarized in The Soviet Space Challenge pamphlet. 41

Laser Weapons

DOD estimates that the Soviet's laser program is "larger than U.S. efforts and involves over 10,000 scientists and engineers as well as more than a half-dozen major R&D facilities and test ranges." 42 Sary Shagan was pinpointed as the location for much of the research. It was estimated that the facility housed several lasers for air defense and two lasers which were probably capable of damaging satellites in orbit. The report stated that one of these could be used in feasibility testing for ABM applications. The annual cost of the laser program was estimated to be in the region of $1 billion. 43

Soviet scientists had "achieved impressive output power" from gas-dynamic, electric discharge and chemical lasers and were "possibly exploring the potential of visible and very-short-wave-length lasers." They were said to be investigating excimer, free-electron and x-ray lasers, and also developing argon-ion lasers. 44

In 1986 it was reported that U.S. intelligence had detected two large facilities under construction on mountain tops near Dushanbe, to the north of the border between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. 45 In the following year the same magazine published pictures taken by the French SPOT remote sensing satellite which suggested that the complex consisted of four domed lasers in a diamond formation. 46

The production of a 1.2 meter diameter segmented mirror in 1978 for an astrophysical telescope which had been claimed to be a prototype for a 25 meter diameter mirror was advanced as evidence for the development of optical systems necessary for long-range space-based laser weapon systems 47 and Salyut cosmonauts were reported to be conducting laser-pointing and tracking experiments. 48

A second reference to cosmonaut participation claimed that Ro- manenko and Laveikin onboard the Mir orbital station in 1987 had "used a laser beam to target and track a Soviet-launched intercontinental ballistic missile." 49 This was promptly refuted. 50

Senior Soviet spokesman Gennadiy Gerasimov dismissed as "slander" Western media claims that the Soviet Union had installed "strategic defense lasers", including one at Sary Shagan in Kazakhstan, and had used them to put three American satellites out of action. Gerasimov said that the Soviet Union had no laser weapons and that the "experimental laser device" at Sary Shagan was used for "surveying space and tracking targets in space." 51

Cosmos 1767

The J-l launch of Cosmos 1767, considered to be an engineering test, 52 was thought by some Western analysts to have been testing a chemical laser weapon. 53 This suggestion brought a categorical denial from the Soviets. Vladislav Drobkov, writing in Pravda, said that according to "competent Soviet organizations, . . . there is no connection whatsoever (and there can be none) between the launch­ing of the Cosmos 1767 satellite and the testing of anti-satellite weapons." 54

Particle Beam Weapons

DOD claims that the Soviets had been "exploring the feasibility of using particle beams for a space-based weapon system" since the late 1960s and might be in a position to test a prototype intended to disrupt the electronics of satellites in the 1990s. An operational system to destroy satellites could follow but the destruction of missile boosters or warheads was further down the line. 55

Radio-Frequency Weapons

Research into the use of high-power microwave signals having the potential to interfere with or destroy critical electronic components of satellites or ballistic missile warheads could lead to the deployment of a ground-based weapon for use against satellites in the 1990s, according to DOD. 56


U.S. concern was expressed in 1985 over a new large phased array radar discovered to be under construction at Krasnoyarsk (57°N, 93°E) which, if used for ballistic missile warning, would, by virtue of its location, violate the ABM Treaty. The Soviet Union declared it as a space surveillance radar 57 but a visit by a U.S. Con gressional delegation to the site in September 1987, produced no unambiguous assessment of its purpose when completed. Following that visit the Soviet Union declared a one year's moratorium on further work at the site. 58


A . SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1981-87, SPACE SCIENCE, SPACE APPLICATIONS, MILITARY SPACE PROGRAMS, ADMINISTRATION, RESOURCE BURDEN, AND MASTER LOG OF SPACEFLIGHTS, Part 2, April 1989, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 1989, Committee print 1981-87- part-2

31. TASS, June 15, 1985.

32. Frankfurter Rundschau, Frankfurt, Main, West Germany, May 30, 1985, p. 1.

33. Neue Az, Vienna, Austria, Oct. 19-20, 1985, p. 5.

34. Radio Moscow. Sept. 5, 1985.

35. NHK TV, Tokyo, Japan, Sept. 17, 1985.

36. For a discussion of U.S. ASAT Activities, see: U.S. Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. ASATs: Antisatellite Weapon Systems. Issue Brief No. 1685176, by Marcia S. Smith. 15 p. (continually updated).

37. Aerospace Daily, Dec. 27, 1984, p. 281.

38. U.S. Dept. of Defense. The Soviet Space Challenge. Washington, 1987. p. 41.

39. TASS, Sept. 17, 1985.

40. Frankfurter Rundschau, Frankfurt, Main, West Germany, Dec. 5, 1985, p. 8.

41. U.S. Dept. of Defense. The Soviet Space Challenge. Washington, 1987. p. 15-17.

42. op. cit.. p. 15.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Sept. 15, 1986, p. 21.

46. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Oct. 26, 1987, p. 26-27.

47. Ibid., The Soviet Space Challenge.

48. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Jan. 28, 1985, p. 27.

49. Wall Street Journal, July 15, 1987, editorial.

50. Defense Daily, July 17, 1987, p. 90-91.

51. TASS, Oct. 30, 1986?

52. Soviet Space Programs: 1981-87, Part 1. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., May, 1988. p. 244-245.

53. Defense News, Aug. 25, 1986, p. 2.
64 Drobkov, V., Pravda, Sept. 6, 1986.

55. The Soviet Space Challenge, op. cit., p. 16-17.

56. op. cit., p. 17.

57. Radio Moscow. July 10, 1985.

58 Radio Moscow. Dec. 3, 1987.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 04-03-2018 12:29:32 ZULU