Russia’s EW Is Worse Than You Thought

Last week’s obsessive recapping of the Unha-2 launch provided an occasion to “ask why Russian officials have such odd perceptions”: of North Korean missile and nuclear activity, and what that would imply for the actual use of GMD by the United States. Hint: not so good.

Just a few days later, the situation looks, if anything, even worse than at first glance. While there’s every reason to believe that the Russians can see missiles inbound from the United States, there’s not much indication that they can see missiles launched from North Korea.

That means that a multiple GMD launch in the direction of Russia is likely to be the first thing that the Strategic Rocket Forces commander learns about, not the North Korean launch(es) that would have prompted it.

Because I’d like to come to the point while I still have your attention, I’m putting the source material in the comments. Go look there, if you’re not too squeamish.


To:     Combatant commanders, present and future
From: Posterity

One doesn’t want to judge hastily. So: _if_ these accounts are basically accurate — I stress _if_ — and until such a time as this mess can be cleared up, the actual use of GMD against a North Korean missile launch in the direction of North America would appear to be an act of madness.

Cross-posted to “ACW”: See the “comments at ACW”:

6 thoughts on “Russia’s EW Is Worse Than You Thought

  1. Josh

    Here are the source items.

    In the April 4 Moskovsky Komsomolets, Olga Bozhyeva writes:

    [start quote] The ambiguous promises of our military to “use appropriate technical means to track” give rise to the alarming question: “Why just track?” Particularly, if one remembers that just a couple of years ago they “missed” the launches of North Korean missiles, which had not been announced earlier. Had it not been for the Americans announcing them, based upon their overhead reconnaissance, our military leaders, apparently, would never even have known that someone’s ballistic missiles were flying in direct proximity to Russia’s Far Eastern borders.

    Has anything changed since that time in regard to strengthening our combat capabilities and just what are these “appropriate technical means” that our military officials plan to use in tracking a launch of a North Korean missile? “MK” has sought clarification from a leading specialist in the field of anti-ballistic missile and air defense. Here is his assessment.

    “Russia’s capabilities to detect a North Korean ballistic missile are very limited. In the Far East there were some means that might be able to track a missile, but if it must be shot down, such capabilities have not existed there for a long time. We have a radar station in the area near Nakhodka – an element of the Missile Attack Warning System (SPRN) – and on Russkiy Island there is a long-range detection system, the ‘Oborona P-14.’ They can still detect a missile, but only in certain stages of flight. The P-14 will find it difficult to follow it even within the zone of its visibility, since this missile possesses an angular speed that exceeds its capability. The station at Nakhodka has a very limited ‘view’ of this region. Its most probable sector of detection is in the direction of Japan. When it was built, no one anticipated any problems from North Korea. They only expected problems from Japan. Clearly, this is an old station. It is hard to say what its present condition is, and no one will tell you the truth. Some elements are probably still functioning, but not at full capacity. But this is not the problem; the problem is that neither of these stations can operate around the clock. They use too much energy and the equipment simply cannot stand up to it. The temperature rises to the point that the cables fuse. The P-14 station basically uses vacuum tubes, and when the tubes operate for too long under maximum load they simply burn out. The station has to be shut down frequently for technical maintenance when it is used continuously. Either that or it is switched on for a short period of time when there is a great need. However, if it is known when the missile will fly, I think that the P-14 would somehow be turned on in such a case. Earlier, near Komsomolsk-on-Amur we had a large radar center – a very large station. Everything that remained in this region can be viewed as its auxiliary elements. But now this station no longer exists. It was too expensive and they did not pay it any heed in the early 1990s. There is also a regiment of S-300 systems near Vladivostok. But their radars simply cannot see missiles such as the ‘Taepodong-2’ that fly at a very high speed.” [end quote]

    In the April 6 edition of the same publication, Inga Kumskova adds:

    [start quote] Air Defense Troops assets detected the launch of a missile from the territory of the DPRK, it was announced by Sergey Roshcha, an aide to the commander of the Far East Combined Command of the RF Air Force and Air Defense Troops, referring to the commander, Lieutenant-General Valeriy Ivanov. Valeriy Ivanov noted: “If this aerial target had been aimed toward the border with the Russian Federation, it would have been destroyed. The air borders of our state are reliably defended, but this was an air target from the territory of North Korea and no further information was provided by a ‘friend or foe’ inquiry. Had it flown in our direction, I repeat, we would have shot it down,” the commander stated.

    “MK” asked an expert, a general of the Air Defense Troops, to comment on the statements made by our military officials, since they raise doubts even among our biggest specialists.

    “This story about the ‘friend or foe’ system is utter nonsense. Even a schoolboy knows that the responders for this system are not installed on missiles. They are found only in aircraft. For this reason, no one sent any inquiries anywhere. Who would they sent it to on a missile? What is even more nonsensical is that in this situation the Air Defense Troops could have ‘seen’ that the missile was not flying toward us and that they lost sight of it. Why? Because, first of all, our air defense radar stations cannot ‘see’ to an altitude greater than 40 km, since they are designed to track tactical or operational missiles that fly at a different trajectory. Secondly, the speed of this missile was greater than that of the Air Defense Troops radars. For a missile carrier to put a satellite into orbit, it must at the end achieve the first space speed – 7.8 km per second. For a comparison, the S-300 systems are capable of operating against objects that fly at a speed of 1,800 km per second, a modernized S-300 PMU-2 “Favorit” with a speed of 2,800 km per second, and the S-400 to a speed of 4,800 km per second. The Space Troops’ statement that they followed the object is more correct. True, there was a clarification: they ‘saw’ the object when it had reached an altitude of about 200 km. Most likely, they ‘intercepted’ the missile using the radar station in Irkutsk, which is part of the Missile Attack Warning System (SPRN) and determined its location using a space monitoring system. In other words, the Space Troops tracked the satellite not as it entered its orbit, but only as a space object.” [end quote]

    In the April 7 Rossiskaya Gazeta, Aleksandr Yemelyanenkov and Sergey Ptichkin write:

    [start quote] Against the backdrop of a very prompt American announcement that the missile had come down, the lengthy silence on the part of the Space Troops Command, whose structure incorporates the early-warning system, is totally incomprehensible. The Space Troops’ Press Service has told Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s correspondents that military specialists have simply “analyzed the information obtained” thoroughly. As a result, they have arrived at the conclusion that the DPRK has not placed a satellite in orbit, which fact they have duly conveyed to the General Staff. Questions arise because the missile attack early-warning system was actually established to register an ICBM launch at any point on the globe in real time, and to instantly determine the direction of flight and the possible impact point of the warhead. It transpires that the system spent over a day analyzing the information obtained. Meanwhile, even schoolchildren know that a ballistic missile reaches the most distant target in 30 minutes at most.

    So the launch of the Milky Way [Unha] and the total fog surrounding its flight give grounds for asking: How effective is our homeland’s missile attack early-warning system? And what are the Space Troops lacking that would make them an effective and high-performance service? [end quote]

    OK, then. That’s really not so good.

  2. knotnic

    I assume in the middle quote you mean 1800, 2800, 4800 meters/sec (1.8-4.8 km/sec).

    Josh adds: Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what was intended.

  3. knotnic

    This source material is great. I’m really glad you’re translating & posting this here and on ACW.

    Josh adds: I disclaim any credit for the translations, which were provided to me. I don’t know Russian.

  4. Allen Thomson

    Russian uses commas for decimal points. It can make for some confusion when going into American English.


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