‘Samolet-M’ and the Future of Moscow Missile Defense
Aleksandr Stukalin, deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Kommersant newspaper
Angry exchanges between Moscow and Washington over America’s missile defense plans continue to attract generous media coverage. Meanwhile, the current state and the future of Russia’s own missile defense system which protects the city of Moscow, the A-135 (US designation ABM-4), has received very little attention. The system was rolled out in the period between the 1970s and 1990s. On July 15, 1985 the Soviet Council of Ministers issued Resolution No 661-202 designating the Radio Instruments Research Institute (NIIRP) in Moscow as the lead organization for the program.1 In December 1990 the A-135 entered service on a trial basis, and in that state it was inherited by the Russian armed forces after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Several years later, on February 17, 1995 President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree ordering the A-135 system to be restored, upgraded and kept operational at all times. On December 17, 1995 the system was put on combat duty in accordance with an order by the commander of the Russian Air Defense.2
After 20 years of service legitimate and serious questions started to appear about the state of repair of the system’s components, as well as its overall reliability and fitness for purpose. Specialists began to raise concerns as to whether the underlying A-135 design can meet the requirements of a modern missile defense system.
Commentaries by the top brass and defense industry representatives have been few and far between, most of them worried and skeptical. In June 2009 Army General Anatoliy Kornukov, who served as commander of the Russian Air Force in 1998-2002, had this to say: "The system has become so decrepit that I doubt if it could serve its purpose any more. I am talking about the Moscow missile defense system."3 Two years later, in August 2011, that sentiment was echoed by Igor Ashurbeyli, who served as director-general of the Almaz-Antey design bureau in 2000-2011: "The system has become fairly obsolete — which is only natural, when you consider how long ago it was created".4
MoD officials have tended to reject such assessments with automatic optimism. Commenting on the opinion voiced by Kornukov, the defense minister’s deputy for armament, Vladimir Popovkin (who has since been appointed head of the Russian space agency) said that the system would be maintained and upgraded. “For now we have no plans of abandoning the missile defense system which protects the city of Moscow,” he was quoted as saying. He added that the information and command-and-control component of the A-135 had been radically upgraded. “We have installed completely new hardware, and it is performing well,” he said.5 Three months ago similar comments were made by Maj. Gen Vladimir Lyapov, commander of a missile defense division: "Work is now under way to improve the missile defense system’s specifications. We are in the final stages of a transition to new hardware; we are launching specialized high-performance electronics and computer systems. We are also improving the receivers and transmitters. These upgrades are improving the range and quality of detection of ballistic targets“.6
It is therefore quite clear that the Russian missile defense system is being upgraded. Very little information is being released into the public domain, but analysis of open sources gives us a fairly good idea of the nature of those upgrades.
NIIRP was designated as the lead organization for the Moscow missile defense system modernization and upgrade project (RTTs-181 system) by presidential decree No 163 of February 17, 1995.7 Four years previously, on January 31, 1991, the Russian government signed Contract No 406/1591 for the “Samolet-M” (“Aircraft-M”) R&D project. The overall funding of the project was set at 8.5bn roubles.8 There is very little information in the open sources about the early stages of Samolet-M (until the mid-2000s). For example, it has been reported that in 2004 the MoD signed a contract for repairing Izdelie 5K80 (control and information processing station9), which is part of the RTTs-181. Such paucity of information is probably explained by the very slow progress made by the project in those early years, as well as the absolute Soviet-style secrecy that shrouded it.
But in 2002-2004 the state-owned NIIRP was privatized and became a publically traded joint stock company, although all the shares are owned by the Russian government and the Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. Russian legislation requires publicly traded companies to release annual reports, so from then on NIIRT’s reports have not only contained regular mentions of the Samolet-M project, but even described it as “the company’s main project”. According to these reports, the missile and space defense systems procurement department of the Russian Space Troops (which became a separate armed service in 2001) has been designated as the state customer for the project. The aforementioned State Contract No 406/1591 runs until 2015, and the funding disbursed to NIIRP for the project has been as follows:
Year Funding, million roubles
Sources: the table is based on sources listed as No 1, 7 and 8 in the References section. The figures for 2005 and 2008 are actual, the rest are budget targets.
In November 2007, as part of the NIIRP project to modernize and upgrade the missile defense system which protects Moscow, the General Staff of the Russian Armed forces approved the performance and specifications requirements to the system. On December 24, 2007 it issued Directive No 314/8/3920 to set up the No 1607 MoD representative office at NIIRP to oversee the progress being made by the project. By 2009 the institute had already obtained an official MoD conclusion regarding the conceptual design of the modernized RTTs-181. The conclusion appeared to be mostly positive. Nevertheless, important conceptual and organizational changes were made to the Russian missile defense program during that period.
On June 19, 2007 the Russian Cabinet’s defense industry commission approved a document entitled “Outlines of the new Russian air and space defense system for the period until 2016 and beyond”. The document designated the Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern as the new lead company and system integrator for Russia’s air and space defenses. The following objectives were set before Almaz-Antey in 2008:
Conduct R&D and manufacture the necessary hardware for the Russian air and space defense program
Develop science-based proposals on the development of air and space defense hardware for inclusion in the arms procurement program and the State Armaments Program for 2011-2020, and participate in R&D under these proposals
Manufacture, upgrade, repair and decommission air and space defense equipment
Conduct comprehensive R&D to implement the Concept of Air and Space Defense of the Russian Federation.10
By 2008 Almaz-Antey had completed early conceptual designs and submitted its proposals for the Inter-Agency Comprehensive Air and Space Defense Program for the Period of 2016 and Beyond.11 In 2009 the concern was already developing engineering designs for components of the RTTs-181 system (the Samolet-M R&D project) as part of the state arms procurement program.12
The Almaz-Antey concern’s division tasked with implementing the air and space defense R&D project, manufacturing mass-produced systems, upgrading the ones already in service, and providing designer supervision, repair and maintenance of the systems was given to the Almaz-Antey Main System Design Bureau (GSKB). In 2009-2010 the former lead company for the A-135 project, NIIRP, completely lost its independence and was subordinated to GSKB “for the purposes of developing future air and space defense systems and concentrating the R&D and manufacturing capability”. The company, now called NIIRT Center, continues its work on the modernization and improvement of the Moscow missile defense system, but now it is a division of Almaz-Antey.13,14 As a result the air defense concern has now concentrated all Russian missile defense R&D and manufacturing assets. It has reported that as part of the state arms procurement program in 2010 it worked to produce engineering designs for individual components of the upgraded RTTs-181M system.15
Functionally the A-135 combat system deployed in Moscow Region consists of two key subsystems: the Don-2N (5N20, Pill Box) multirole radar in Sofrino, and the interceptor launch sites. A smaller and simpler version of the system has been deployed at the Sary-Shagan (Priozersk) weapons range in Kazakhstan to test the key elements of the A-135. It consists of the Amur-P (5Zh60P) multi-channel firing complex and the field version of the radar, the Don-2NP (5N20P).
The radar component of the Samolet-M project led by Almaz-Antey involves the developer of the Don-2N, the Academician Mints Radiotechnical Institute (RTI) in Moscow. In recent years RTI has worked to prepare Product 5N20P for operations in the field.16 The R.O.S. SPETSTEKHMONTAZH company was commissioned by RTI to perform some work at “Facility 2311”, the site of the multirole radar in Moscow Region, as part of Samolet-M R&D.17 The company has also upgraded the visualization system of Product 5N20. One of its recent annual reports mentions “Facility 2311” in the section listing the company’s projects to prepare various hardware for launch, provide technical assistance and maintenance, refurbish technical systems and urgently repair malfunctioning equipment.
In addition, R.O.S. SPETSTEKHMONTAZH has completed preparations for calibrating the radar at the 5N20P facility.18 One of the subcontractors for this part of the Samolet-M program is the Kazan-based ENIKS company, which is developing a range of special UAVs used for calibrating radars. It has been reported that such UAV is already undergoing joint testing.19
As part of the information processing component the Moscow-based NII Super EVM has conducted work on the Elbrus-90 Micro computer systems used at the testing range during field operations as part of the 5Zh60P complex. The work included restoring from back-up copies the file system of the Elbrus-90 Micro computers integrated into the 5N20P, and testing the interaction of the 5E68PM computer system and the multirole radar with external systems. NII Super EVM has also developed technical proposals for upgrading the Elbrus-90 Micro computers integrated into the 5N20P.20
Another subcontractor working on the Samolet-M R&D project is the St Petersburg-based NPP Piramida. The company has been developing materials for a conceptual design project entitled “Training system for RTS-181M personnel” and worked on the engineering design of a testing and simulation complex used to assess the performance of RTTs-181M (Product 5N20P).21
In recent years many of the components and elements of the Don-2N radar have been repaired or replaced.22 As to the question of any radical future changes to the radar, the answer can probably be glimpsed in the terms of the Smysl R&D contract, for which the Ministry of Industry and Trade has recently invited bids.
According to these terms, the purpose of the project is to develop the technology for a new measuring and modeling radar system capable of two-dimensional super-resolution based on non-coherent wide-band multi-frequency signals to improve recognition and selection of small-size ballistic and space objects. The technology will be used for the Samolet-M project. The terms of the contract announced by the ministry also state that the technology will be implemented in the new-generation VHF and UHF-band Voronezh radars, which are nearing completion, and in the upgraded Don-2N radar (C-band). The Voronezh radars are equipped with L-band high-precision and high-resolution coordinates-measuring channels. Up until now, the Don-2N has been capable of producing only one-dimensional radial images based on wide-band multi-frequency signals with coded carrier frequency transform. Compared to that older technology, the radial-Doppler radar imaging of objects at short time intervals (measured in seconds) is capable of identifying the geometrical shape and the dynamic characteristics of the target, including the parameters of its movement relative to its center of mass.
The new R&D project includes the development of new mathematical models, software and algorithms using the El-76 programming language (developed some time ago specially for the Elbrus-type supercomputers), and testing the entire two-dimensional technology on the existing computer systems of the Don-2N radar in accordance with plans approved by the Space Troops Command.23
The missile component of the A-135 is also undergoing changes. Initially it was based on the long-range (51T6, Gorgon) and short-range (53T6, Gazelle) missile interceptors. Deliveries of the interceptors began back in 1990 and ended in 1992.24 By the mid-2000s they had reached the end of their lifespan, forcing the MoD to decommission the long-range interceptors. That became clear from indirect evidence some five years ago, when a contract was announced for the disposal of the 51T6 missiles.25 By now the missile defense command has officially recognized that it now has only short-range interceptors.26 But there are some problems with those interceptors as well.
One of them was described by Igor Ashurbeyli: "The warheads are stored separately from the missiles. The decision was made under President Yeltsin for safety reasons. As a result, the time-to-launch for these interceptors is not always in line with the time-to-target of the potential adversary’s missiles."27 The use of nuclear warheads developed by the All-Union Experimental Physics Research Institute (VNIIEF, Arzamas-16)28 in the short-range interceptors posed safety problems during storage, increased the time-to-launch and raised questions regarding the effects of the use of this weapon on the territories it was supposed to protect. It is known, however, that back during the trials of the A-135 system the MKSK Amur-P company conducted experiments to extend the lower and upper limits of the short-range interceptors’ effective range, improve their maneuverability and equip them with a new warhead as part of the Samolet-M program.29 As for the trials themselves, some sources are adamant that they were conducted using a non-nuclear directional HE fragmentation warhead.30
The second problem with the 53T6 interceptors is that they are also nearing the end of their lifespan. The MoD is pinning its hopes on the development of the future versatile S-500 SAM system, which will be capable of intercepting ballistic and orbital targets and can potentially be integrated into the Moscow missile defense system. But it has to be said that the S-500 is nowhere near completion, while the missile interceptors which protect the Russian capital are rapidly becoming too old and obsolete, and require immediate replacement.
The designer of the 53T6 (the Novator R&D bureau in Yekaterinburg) and the manufacturer (the Kalinin Machine-Building Plant, also in Yekaterinburg) are extremely secretive about any upgrades of the interceptor and all related projects. But it is known from other sources that several such projects are under way.
First, the MoD has been extending the lifespan of the existing interceptors in one-year increments by test-launching one 53T6 interceptor at the Sary-Shagan range every year. The last such launch was conducted on December 20, 2011; the previous one was in October 2010.
Meanwhile, the Almaz-Antey concern (or more precisely, its NIR Analiz-U division) is developing methods for safe disposal of the 5S73 propulsion units used in the 53T6 interceptors. It also oversees the extension of the lifespan of the 53T6s which still remain in service (the Priozersk R&D project)31 and leads the project to resume production of the 5S73 propulsion units.32 According to the latest annual report by Avangard (based in Safonovo, Smolensk Region) the company has already resumed mass production of the 5S73 cases.
As part of the Samolet-M program Avangard has produced conceptual designs for the 72P6M and 76P6M1 fiberglass cases; the work was commissioned by the OKB Novator design bureau. According to the company’s plans, the working design documents for Izdelie 72P6M were to be finished by 2011, and the first prototype for autonomous trials was to be completed that same year. As part of the Nudol R&D project, Avangard is also to design a product designated as KS-203 and manufacture a prototype.33 The work has also been commissioned by Novator.
Official media outlets have recently reported that the Perm Gunpowder Plant and the Polymer Materials Research Institute have also become involved in the Samolet-M program. Their task is "to resume manufacturing of an important product".34 Finally, it has been reported that the Omsk-based OAO Saturn is preparing for a project to manufacture and upgrade onboard systems of Izdelie 53T6M, which is used in the RTTs-181M system.35
It is therefore obvious that the A-135 project is moving forward quite rapidly. We can only hope that the general public and independent military experts will be given more information about it by government agencies and officials in the coming years. Still, it is already quite clear that plans to save the city of Moscow’s missile defense system from technological degradation and to make it significantly more capable in the process are entirely achievable in the foreseeable future.
1 NIIRP 2006 Annual Report. www.e-disclosure.ru/portal/FileLoad.aspx?Fileid=14829&type=file.
2 Perov M. “Annushkas, the guardians of Moscow”. Moscow: Stolichnaya Entsiklopediya publications, 2010.
3 Interfax-AVN, June 15, 2009.
4 RIA Novosti, August 15, 2011. http://ria.ru/interview/20110815/417675459.html.
5 Interfax-AVN, June 17, 2009.
6 Krasnaya Zvezda, September 28, 2011.
7 NIIRP. 2005 Annual Report. www.e-disclosure.ru/portal/FileLoad.aspx?Fileid=19061&type=file.
8 NIIRP. 2008 Annual Report. www.e-disclosure.ru/portal/FileLoad.aspx?Fileid=19061&type=file.
9 Russia’s Shield: Missile Defense Systems. Moscow. MGTU Bauman publishing. 2009.
10 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2007 Annual Report.
11 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2008 Annual Report. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/_files/13/547/.
12 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2008 Annual Report. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/_files/13/539/.
13 GSKB Almaz-Antey. 2009 Annual Report. http://www.raspletin.ru/files/100707/2.pdf.
14 GSKB Almaz-Antey. 2009 Annual Report.
15 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2010 Annual Report. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/_files/13/371/.
16 RTI Mintz. 2008 Annual Report. http://www.rti-mints.ru/doc/go_rti_2008.pdf.
17 Perov M. “Annushkas, the guardians of Moscow”. Moscow: Stolichnaya Entsiklopediya publications, 2010.
18 R.O.S. SPETSTEKHMONTAZH. 2009 Annual Report. http://www.rosstm.ru/_files/editor/file/docs/Otchet.pdf.
19 FLOT.com Central Navy Portal. Catalogue of Naval Defense Industry Companies. Products and Services. ENIKS. http://flotprom.ru/catalog/?ELEMENT_ID=3353.
20 NII Super EVM. 2010 Annual Report. http://www.super-computer.ru/images/pril1-108.doc.
21 NPP Piramida. 2008 Annual Report. http://piramida.com.ru/otchet2008.pdf
22 Equipment for the Don-2N radar. Invitation of bids for a contract. April 23, 2008. http://www.alltenders.ru/tender_podrob_new.asp?KodTendera=508632.
23 Invitation of bids for the state contract to conduct R&D under the No 1 Federal Delivery Program. Item No 5. Technical requirements to the R&D project “Developing the technology of a measuring and modeling radar system capable of two-dimensional super-resolution of objects based on non-coherent wide-band multi-frequency signals”, codename “Smysl”. Approved on September 23, 2011. http://doc.gostorgi.ru/1/2011-09-26/1670918/1.doc.
24 Perov M. “Annushkas, the guardians of Moscow”. Moscow: Stolichnaya Entsiklopediya publications, 2010.
25 Tender 201-372 of March 27, 2006. Disposal of Product 51T6. http://www.gostorgi.ru/201-372.html.
26 Krasnaya Zvezda, September 28, 2011.
27 RIA Novosti, August 15, 2011. http://ria.ru/interview/20110815/417675459.html.
28 A-135 Strategic Missile Defense System — a second-generation Moscow missile defense system. http://old.vko.ru/article.asp?pr_sign=archive.2005.25.13_11.
29 Russia’s Shield: Missile Defense Systems. Moscow. MGTU Bauman publications. 2009.
30 PRS-1/53T6 missile interceptor of the A-135/RTTs-181 Amur/5Zh60 missile defense system. Missile Technology site. http://rbase.new-factoria.ru/missile/wobb/53t6/53t6.shtml.
31 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2008 Annual Report. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/_files/13/539/.
32 Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern. 2010 Annual Report. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/_files/13/371/.
33 Avangard. 2010 Annual Report. http://www.avangard-plastik.ru/data/pages/22/0/got%20otchet2010.pdf.
34 Kustov V. Together to a common goal. Kirovets newspaper, No 3 (5252) of February 4, 2011. http://www.fkpppz.ru/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/K_04_02_11.pdf.
35 Saturn. 2010 Annual Report.
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