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Russian Space Security Upgrade: A Colossal Claim or a Colossus with Feet of Clay?

As tensions flare globally, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday, June 14th, an enhancement to its space security facilities. According to the ministry’s official statement, the newly developed installation boasts “unmatched abilities in automatically seeking, detecting and managing minute space entities in Earth’s orbit.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was recently privy to a tour of this new installation located in the Western Military District in Russia, where he was updated on the nation’s advancements in space security. Colonel General Alexander Golovko, Commander of the Russian Space Forces and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Air and Space Forces, walked him through the emerging technology. As per the military, this facility can track objects as tiny as 10 cm. Furthermore, the Russians are set to quadruple their spacecraft detection speed post-launch and double the speed of determining their destinations by 2027, according to Reuters.

However, such pronouncements from the Russian administration must be scrutinized against the backdrop of its track record and international reputation. Russia has a long history of positioning itself as an intimidating military power, frequently propagating a narrative that its technology is unrivalled. Nonetheless, recent conflicts, like the one in Ukraine, have exposed the frailties of its claims, bringing to light equipment quality issues and poor battlefield application. Furthermore, sanctions have significantly hampered Russia’s space sector.

Corruption within the country also cripples technological advancements. Take, for instance, the Voronezh radar stations, an integral part of Russia’s air and space surveillance apparatus. Despite costing 20 billion rubles each, these stations have been plagued with operational issues for years, failing to meet performance expectations. Such issues range from inaccuracies to unstable operation of complex transceiver systems.

Investigative journalists have attributed these problems to widespread corruption within the firms responsible for key electronic component supply. Additionally, the antiquated and error-prone software and ICT systems used in the anti-ballistic missile systems present another hurdle. These systems are particularly susceptible to interference, especially from numerous objects in low Earth orbits.

As experts and analysts both domestic and foreign agree, Russia’s narrative of technological superiority over Western systems is grossly overstated. Its proclamations about the reliability and unrivalled nature of its equipment seem more about intimidating its rivals than reflecting reality. Given the state of affairs, the credibility of Russia’s capability to detect and identify threats in low Earth orbit (LEO) remains dubious.

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