ASAT Weapons? What Stinkin’ ASAT Weapons?


I have to take issue with DT colleague John Noonan’s post at the Weekly Standard blog today on the story (revelation?) that the Russians are reluctantly working on anti-satellite weapons to counter U.S. missile defense initiatives and other perceived ills.

John says essentially “what’s the news here?” The Sovs had been working on this technology for decades and that “they’ve been there all along”…

Well, my thoughts on this are: prove it!

Though Noonan reminds us of the Soviet-era investments in anti-sat weapons, my question is what have they been doing since then? I go back to the paranoid bomber boogieman story that “oh no, the Russians are coming because they’re flying Bear bombers (propeller driven, hello!?) along the Alaska border”…

Can someone please tell me how many flight hours on average a Russian bomber crew gets per month — or per year? So, tell me, if they’re still flying the same bombers for a few hours a year that they were during the Cold War (I know, I know — we’re still flying the B-52, but it’s a very different bomber in its guts than it was in 1960) then tell me how the Russians can pose any kind of threat to satellites in space?

It’s typical of an Associated Press reporter who knows little about military technology to excite his editors with some unrealistic threats from an obscure former space forces commander:

Russia already has some “basic, key elements” of such weapons, he said without elaboration.

Popovkin, who previously was the chief of Russian military Space Forces, reportedly made the statement at a news conference in response to a question about U.S. and Chinese tests of anti-satellite weapons.

Huh? Basic key elements? Like the Mir? Oh yeah, that went down in flames a few years ago…And didn’t we just shoot down a satellite with a missile launched from a ship about a year ago? I’d say Popovkin in dreaming.

— Christian

  • Bubbahotep

    “propeller driven, hello!?”
    Max speed: 510 KIAS
    Max range: 8,100 NM
    Max payload: 33,000 lb
    Max speed: 560 KIAS
    Max range: 8,700 NM
    Max payload: 70,000 lb
    The Bear is turboprop driven, it’s not like its a Sopwith Camel.

  • dziban303

    I figured as a defense journalist you would know that the interception of USA-193 with a SM-3 missile last year was certainly not the mission the missile was designed for. It doesn’t have the ceiling to threaten the majority of satellites in orbit. The (never introduced) ASM-135 missile of the 1980’s had more than twice the maximum ceiling that the SM-3 missile does. Trumpeting the SM-3 as an ASAT weapon is improper-it is an ABM first with potential low-altitude ASAT capability.
    Furthermore, I’m not exactly sure where you get the idea that the Mir station was some sort of basic key element for an anti-satellite weapon. Simply because it was launched into space? Or was it just the first thing that popped into your head? In any case, Mir was retired after 15 years of service. It didn’t “go down in flames” in an accident or whatever it is that you’re insinuating. I seem to recall a certain American space vehicle “going down in flames” not too long ago, with the notable difference that it had people on board at the time.
    Laughing off the Tu-95 is equally perplexing. It may be a dated airframe, but like the B-52, its “guts” have also been extensively upgraded since it was introduced and it remains a potent weapon. As commenter Bubbahotep mentioned, its turboprops give it plenty of speed and range and a payload that include a variety of cruise missiles as well as bombs. It’s also not the only strategic bomber the Russians have.
    Obviously, the Russians have plenty of experience with rocketry, missiles, space launch vehicles, guidance systems, and high-altitude interception-all of which are prerequisites for building an ASAT missile. Dismissing the capabilities of the Russian military to produce such a weapon is not only uninformed but dangerous. I’m glad you’re just a not-so-well-informed journalist (like the AP reporter you derided) and not a policy maker.

  • Valcan

    I Have to agree as far as making a anti sat missile like the chinese and putting up a nucleur warhead or maybe a smp warhead on it they could do it but yea not in a huge amount more than likly.
    Hell id be more afraid of someone developing a type of mine that can just sit and chill up there unnoticed till the time was right.

  • eric

    GNP wise they are no 11. Before India (for the moment), but after Brazil and Spain for instance. They would like to be among the Big Boys, but they can’t pay the bills to be there. That is why flying the T-95 is pathetic, not because it is an old airframe.

  • soonergrunt

    Given that the Russians used a co-orbital design in the 1970s and 80s,
    how do we know that they didn’t do exactly that?

  • Prometheus

    by the way those Bears are all new bulit once from the late 80ies, early 90ies.
    And looking at their weapons & systems, the b-52 could learn a thing or two.

  • Galrahn

    Russia is currently involved in what they call the “2006-15 plan” for space reinvestment, the total value of the 10 year plan is around $12.2 billion.
    While it is entirely possible this includes an ASAT capability, the 10 year plan is primarily to recapitalize space systems workforce, and the only production of technologies that has been discussed are a few replacement satellites.
    Given tough economic times and other economic factors like workforce issues, it is unlikely that significant changes to this long term approach to space has adjusted much.

  • Wembley

    Who would have been supplying the ISS without the Russians? Their space program hssn’t been doing too badly lately, while the US is struggling.
    The Russians demonstrated ASAT capability in 1968; people in the US may laugh at their kit for being basic and crude, but it works. And if you think they haven’t got a lot more sophisticated since then, you haven’t been keeping up.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Valcan,
    You make a good point, but just for the sake of argument is Iran set off a nuclear weapon in the atmospheric above Iraq or Afghanistan wouldn’t that be the same as bombing yourself?
    Even though the Soviets in the 50’s made all kinds of threats they knew quite well that they had to launch live, armed nucs, because they didn’t have the ability to inflight arm their ICBM’s. The Soviets knew they could expect a launch failure rate of at least 10%. It was not until the 1970’s and only after the U.S. via the CIA let the information how to do this seek out during the Carter administration.
    If this idea seemed bad to the Soviets of the 50’s, does anybody really think Iran is crazy enough to even think this?
    Byron Skinner

  • dziban303

    Christian, it turns out that I know plenty of AP reporters, since my father was a 25 year veteran of the AP and bureau chief in New Orleans when he passed away. Though not a reporter myself, I did an internship with the AP and thus I’m not the inexperienced rube you wish I was.
    Not that any of my history matters; as noted, I’m not the defense reporter. You are. Which is why I was surprised and a bit disgusted with your supercilious attitude in this post. You are obviously in a position to know, or at least guess at, the capabilities of the Russians. So let me repeat the point I made: To be so dismissive of the Russians’ ability to build an ASAT system is foolish. Of course they have the ability.

  • Tim

    Christian, back down and apologize. You’re being foolish and acting like a child.
    Since the Russian ASAT program was actually AHEAD of the American one when both sides took a step back, Russia easily has the technological know-how and expertise. As far as money goes, it’s just a matter of priorities. Certainly, Russia cannot afford a large, robust ASAT capability, but a few ASATs based on their extensive SAM, BMD, and space launch capabilities strikes me as well within their reach if they were to choose to do so.
    The Russian quote is in fact most likely just political posturing and bluster, but the assertion that the Russians are not capable of having an ASAT program is absurd. Given the current climate, I might be more surprised than not if they didn’t at least have a small exploratory program, dusting off blueprints, etc.

  • Valcan

    ” U.S. via the CIA let the information how to do this seek out during the Carter administration.”
    …..oh shite…and our new president follows the mans footsteps….were screwed….
    “If this idea seemed bad to the Soviets of the 50’s, does anybody really think Iran is crazy enough to even think this?”
    Accualy i do….