DIA: Russia Sees Reliance on Space as U.S. Military’s Achilles’ Heel

Russia has focused on maintaining its own military and civil satellites on orbit and selling launch services commercially. Russia usually launches small satellites as multiple payloads on heavier rockets but sometimes uses the Rokot light-lift vehicle to launch smaller payloads into LEO. Russia’s heavy-lift vehicles are mostly used for launching into GEO or HEO. The developmental Energia SLV, designed to boost the Russian space shuttle into orbit, was discontinued in the 1980s and revived in 2016 to support proposed lunar missions. (Visualization: DIA, D3 Design)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpts on Russia

Strategy, Doctrine, and Intent

Russian military doctrine and authoritative writings clearly articulate that Russia views space as a warfighting domain and that achieving supremacy in space will be a decisive factor in winning future conflicts. Russian military thinkers believe the importance of space will continue to expand because of the growing role of precision weapons and satellite-supported information networks in all types of conflict. Meanwhile, Russia regularly expresses concern over the weaponization of space and is pursuing legal, binding space arms control agreements to curb what it sees as U.S. weaponization of outer space.

As Russia continues to modernize its military, it will increasingly incorporate space-provided services across its forces. Russia possesses a robust space program with a strong foundation of technical knowledge and expertise fostered by over 60 years of experience in space. However, Moscow wants to avoid becoming overly reliant on space to carry out its national defense mission.

Moscow views space as a key enabler of U.S. precision strike and military force projection capabilities. When paired with U.S. missile defense systems, Russia believes U.S. space-enabled, conventional precision strike capabilities undermine strategic stability. At the same time, Russia views America’s perceived dependence on space as the “Achilles heel” of U.S. military power, which can be exploited to achieve Russian conflict objectives. Russia is therefore pursuing counterspace systems to neutralize or deny U.S. space-based services, both military and commercial, as a means of offsetting a perceived U.S. military advantage and is developing an array of weapons designed to interfere with or destroy an adversary’s satellites.

Russian counterspace doctrine involves employing ground, air, and space-based systems to target an adversary’s satellites, with attacks ranging from temporary jamming or sensor blinding to destruction of enemy spacecraft and supporting infrastructure. Moscow believes developing and fielding counterspace capabilities will deter aggression by adversaries reliant upon space. If deterrence fails, Russia believes its counterspace forces will offer its military leaders the ability to control escalation of a conflict through selective targeting of adversary space systems.

Counterspace Capabilities

Space Situational Awareness. Russia’s space surveillance network, composed of a variety of telescopes, radars, and other sensors, is capable of searching for, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits. This network allows Russia to support missions including intelligence collection, counterspace targeting, spaceflight safety, satellite anomaly resolution, and space debris monitoring. Some of these sensors also perform a ballistic missile early warning function.

Electronic Warfare. The Russian military views EW as an essential tool for gaining and maintaining information superiority over its adversaries, allowing Russia to seize the operational initiative by disrupting adversary command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities. Russia has fielded a wide range of groundbased EW systems to counter GPS, tactical communications, satellite communications, and radars. Mobile jammers include radar jammers and SATCOM jammers. Russia has aspirations to develop and field a full spectrum of EW capabilities to counter Western C4ISR and weapons guidance systems with new technology, data transfer, and capabilities for peacetime and wartime use by 2020.

Directed Energy Weapons. Russia likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors. Prior to July 2018, Russia began delivering a laser weapon system to the Aerospace Forces that likely is intended for an ASAT mission. In public statements, President Vladimir Putin called it a “new type of strategic weapon,” and the Russian Defense Ministry asserted that it is capable of “fighting satellites in orbit.” Russia is also developing an airborne ASAT laser weapon system to use against space-based missile defense sensors.

Cyberspace Threats. Since at least 2010, the Russian military has prioritized the development of forces and capabilities, including cyberspace operations, for what it terms “information confrontation,” which is a holistic concept for ensuring information superiority. The weaponization of information is a key aspect of this strategy and is employed in times of peace, crisis, and war. Russia considers the information sphere to be strategically decisive and has taken steps to modernize its military’s information attack and defense organizations and capabilities.

Orbital Threats. Russia continues to research and develop sophisticated on-orbit capabilities that could serve dual-use purposes. For example, inspection and servicing satellites can be capable of closely approaching satellites to inspect and potentially fix issues causing malfunctions; this same technology could also be used to approach another country’s satellite and conduct an attack that results in temporary or permanent damage. In 2017, Russia deployed what it described as an “inspector satellite capable of diagnosing the technical condition of a Russian satellite from the closest possible distance”; however, its behavior is inconsistent with on-orbit inspection activities or space situational awareness capabilities.

Ground-based Kinetic Energy Threats. Russia likely is developing a ground-based, mobile missile system capable of destroying space targets in LEO and ballistic missiles. This weapon system is likely to be operational within the next several years.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And folks wonder why the U.S. needs a Space Force that is lasered focused on protecting American assets in space.

  • Tom Billings

    Basically, this is all the stuff that was suspected or known in the last Administration, when decision-makers/counselors decided that talking about it would only make it worse. A huge amount of US security depends on the US Navy, and we have had since WWII a Blue Water/Blue Sky Navy, with increasing emphasis on operations where light never shines into the black below the waves. We will now have to shift to a Black Sky/Black Water Navy. The major changes in the Army and the Air Force will be just as necessary and just as Space-dependent.

    The anti-military groups will resist as always, because they don’t want their graduates to lose resources to anything else, and will tell themselves whatever tales they must to justify keeping a Space Force from happening. However, even the House Committee Chairs are staring a rather grim future in the face, and something will happen, as long as they can keep the current Executive Branch from getting credit for it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL the Russians have no offensive capability against US space assets

  • Robert G. Oler

    this is silly stuff. it is like saying that ISIS is in Venezuela…oh wait the executive is saying that

    neither the Chinese or Russian armed forces are a significant threat to US space assets

    dont label me anti military. My name in the Navy was either Captain or Chief of Staff 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    the super heavy lifter…what a joke

  • Robert G. Oler

    when republicans want to spend more defense money and the old excuses have run out (ISIS etc) they turn to “space war”. its a great cash cow for industry and the pentagon…they spend money and nothing happens and the old war threats never go away

    THE threat to the US is bifold 1) we have and are wasting money in the mideast for no real reason and 2) the Chinese are taking the “Eastern sea” back one island at a time…its a stratgery that is very low tech (we did it in the 30’s) but works…

    meanwhile dupes are talking about space war…

  • Tom Billings

    “neither the Chinese or Russian armed forces are a significant threat to US space assets”

    In this, you delude yourself, Robert.

    When they have already formed organizations specifically tasked to harm US assets, and are testing/developing equipment to do so, then the only thing you can truthfully say is that they have not yet demonstrated that against our assets. Do you believe they are no threat till the first US satellite is destroyed? Or do you believe the last Administration’s people were right to “don’t say anything, or we’ll make it worse”?

    I have met several ex-military who sink into denial about current developments because of what they desire for the country’s future not being possible if these reports are true. Denial ain’t just de ribber o’ Egypt.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Do you believe they are no threat till the first US satellite is destroyed”

    no you wait until you see something that actually looks and acts like a threat

    “Or do you believe a Navy that now regards the sextant as a quaint historical hobby pursuit does not need space assets that much?”

    the space asset of last resort in terms of being concerned is the GPS constellation. there are so many of them both operating and dark that it would be impossible to delete it

    “”denied the Patriot missile,”

    funds spent on Patriot, thadd and other systems have been wasted

    what is your point

  • savuporo

    I suppose they can buy some Chinese ASATs ? Also, check out Kosmos-2519

  • Robert G. Oler

    dont worry

  • Maxtrue

    Oh, so now you admit ISIS is pretty much squashed in Syria? Who did that?

    The DOD has identified two likely Russian space weapons lifted into orbit on this: https://eng.mil.ru/images/military/military/photo/DSC_5777.jpg …you can do the research.

    They have apparently used novel technology to blind US satellites in the past: http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/26356/mysterious-russian-dome-of-light-baffled-us-spy-plane-pilot-during-cold-war-missions

    Their hypersonic deployment requires a new generation of US satellites to track them for future US defenses. These weapons have been paraded in the Middle East, yet you suggest the region is a waste of US money. The Eastern Med has become an electronic curtain.

    Let’s not talk about Chinese space weapons. Right? No space concerns there….

    The Democrats have screamed about the present DOD budget and have criminalized diplomacy with Putin accelerating the arms race. China’s plans for a satellite system for its lunar missions is in the words of the DOD, a serious potential threat to the most important US satellites. http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/25781/chinas-historic-mission-to-the-dark-side-of-the-moon-is-about-more-than-science

    Under the Democrats the US launch abilities languished while we used Russian engines. So now TDS shows up here eh?

    You’re so worried about the Chinese, but how was that addressed by the Democrats? The rusting littoral crafts, defunding many missile defense systems, ending the raptor program while China builds its own F-22b, leaving it up to Musk to keep pace in space? https://www.wired.com/story/spacex-keeps-lining-up-covert-military-launches/

    How space is used for Missile defense https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/17/2002080666/-1/-1/1/2019-MISSILE-DEFENSE-REVIEW.PDF

    But hey, let the TDS flow……..

  • windbourne

    Russia, china, and North Korea are a package threat.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Oh, so now you admit ISIS is pretty much squashed in Syria?”

    where did I say that? ISIS is no where near “smashed” in my view they will take down Saudi Arabia in under 5 years

    Their hypersonic deployment requires a new generation of US satellites to track them for future US defenses.”

    is all view graphs they do not have the industrial capability to do this

    China’s plans for a satellite system for its lunar missions is in the

    words of the DOD, a serious potential threat to the most important US



    “Under the Democrats the US launch abilities languished while we used Russian engines.”


    “You’re so worried about the Chinese, but how was that addressed by the
    Democrats? The rusting littoral crafts, defunding many missile defense
    systems, ending the raptor program while China builds its own F-22b,
    leaving it up to Musk to keep pace in space?”

    missile defense is an idiots goal…the F22 was to expensive and what is Musk doing?

    grow up

  • Tom Billings

    My point is that you seem to believe that all programs you disagree with are worthless, …which is what I think ludicrous. So, you agree with Hatfield, even though we needed a working TBMD defense in 1990 for our allies? Or did you just want to constrain the US to certain actions, and find anything needed for more wasted?

    Your arrogance is getting boring, Robert.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    I don’t agree with you crazy left wingers on much, but on that super heavy, were in agreement. Russia developing a giant new rocket, is about as likely as me beating Usain Bolt in a sprint.

  • redneck

    My concern is that available intelligence will be misinterpreted. Or more likely, interpreted in the way that pushes an agenda. History is full of examples of the information being there, but dismissed or twisted.

    From Pearl Harbor to the capabilities of the A6M, there was information available but unheeded in the Pacific. Chinese into Korea and the Battle of the Bulge are a couple more.where enough information was available but dismissed. OTOH, politicians, generals, and admirals are notorious for blowing threats out of proportion to get votes, equipment, and manpower. JFK and the missile gap come to mind.

  • Robert G. Oler

    the Russians cannot even keep their navigation constellation running much less concentrate on space weapons

  • Robert G. Oler

    I think it is misrepresented all the time and has been in US policy making decisions for sometime. Bush43 literarlly hand picked the intel to get us to the Iraq war…Obama and Hillary did the same with Syria and Libya…Trump has stopped cherry picking and is just making it up as he goes

    the problem is that intelligence frequently cannot devine intentions unless you just get lucky and figure out what AI and AE are.

    The Russians have the industrial capability of what? Mississippi? the chinese of course far more…but its unclear that they are headed toward any kind of fight but a “lightening one” in the South China sea…and if they wanted to pull a “pearl harbor” it is entirely possible for them to well do a Pearl Harbor with conventional forces or well do a Guam and then the stuffing really is in the fire.

    what you have to stop, if you are going to stop the US and USN in the South China sea (the Eastern Sea as they call it) is not a bunch of satellites in orbit hundreds of miles over head, but you have to stop the ability of the USN to deploy its flattops into the region and force us to rely on submarines.

    You dont do that in space…you do that by a balls up attack on Guam or Pearl…or the USNS ships that make sure the task forces have kerosene.

  • Robert G. Oler

    My point is that you seem to believe that all programs you disagree with are worthless,

    you are close…it is worthless programs that I disagree with

    Patriot couldnt hit a target with a transponder on it

    your ignorance is alarming

  • duheagle

    And Elon Musk has yet to demonstrate that reusability is a thing and I am Marie of Romania.

  • duheagle

    be happy.

  • duheagle

    Can’t find any “executive” remark to the effect that ISIS is in Venezuela. Link?

    Or are you perhaps confusing ISIS with Iran? Iran, via Hezbollah, is one of Maduro’s backers. Iran also has a decades-long history of terrorist activity in Latin America.

    Both Russia and China are significant threats to U.S. space assets. This isn’t because Russian and Chinese ASAT assets are so formidable as it is that the U.S. – quite unwisely – has chosen to do nothing to defend our space assets. Either or both nations could chose, at pretty much any time, to start picking off U.S. satellites, one or a few at a time. What would a practical U.S. response be? We have no rapid replacement capability.

  • Maxtrue

    I’ll grow up if you grow a brain.

    The F-35 is proving more expensive and not as capable. The following would be far more capable and was advocated years ago even when Obama saw he made the wrong move. http://thedrive.com/the-war-zone/20288/japans-interest-in-an-f-22-f-35-hybrid-could-mean-a-restart-for-f-22-production-line The logic Gates and Democrats (and Bush) used was that the US “would not encounter Russian air threats and air defense” in the future. The F-35 was touted as more capable, “super cruise” and just as stealthy. What fake news. We never made an F-22b which the Chinese are making now. Super Cruise, eventually drone version, stealthy with speed/range and weapons bays that can hold the coming hypersonic missiles. The F-35 program is proving to be more expensive and less capable. What part of that didn’t you understand?

    Are you suggesting US launch capabilities blossomed under Obama? They withered. Didn’t he resign himself to Russian engines? Or do you think I make this stuff up? Teledyne is 3-D printing the solution now to those Russian engines and this blog has writen on the subject. The US has resumed its leadership in launches (going back and forth with China) and you ask me what Musk is doing? –Landing boosters on drone sea barges? What else would you like to know?

    Google why the US thinks Chinese satellite systems rolled out for their future moon missions are suspected systems to take out US deep satellites. Now I have to do your research? If I do, will you except my results?

    Russia does have the capability to advance hypersonic weapons and just yesterday Putin warns they will place them off our coast if we dare counter their illegal missiles in Europe. You think there are no defenses against hypersonic missiles? Are you suggesting we don’t have the capability to roll one out?

    And last, ISIS is almost completely destroyed at this point with a counter-force in place to swat it for years in Syria and Iraq. The Democrats didn’t do that. You sound foolish you know. Like the original celebrity tweets on Smollet, you should consider the source and understand the narrative can’t trump the facts.