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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Missile and Space Defenses

Missile and space defenses have been effective arms of the Air Defense Forces since the mid-1960s. In 1989 the Soviet Union had the world's only operational antiballistic missile (ABM) and antisatellite (ASAT) systems.

The Soviet Union deployed its first ABM defense system around Moscow in 1964. It consisted of surface-to-air missiles that could be launched to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. The Soviet leaders have continually upgraded and developed the capabilities of this initial system. A major modernization of interceptor missiles began in the late 1970s, and by 1989 the Soviet Union had up to thirty-two improved SH-04 (Galosh) launchers in operation and a fundamentally new SH-08 (Gazelle) interceptor missile under development. The newest SA-10 and SA-12 surface-to-air missiles reportedly also had a limited capability to destroy cruise, tactical, and possibly even strategic ballistic missiles. Such a capability would tend to blur the distinction between missile defense and strategic air defense systems.

In 1989 the Radiotechnical Troops operated eleven ground-based radars and numerous satellites to provide strategic early warning of enemy missile launches. They also manned six large phased-array radars for ballistic missile detection. These radars could also serve as target acquisition and tracking radars to guide ABM launchers as part of a nationwide defense against ballistic missiles. In 1989 the Soviet Union was building three additional sites for phased-array radars.

The Soviet Union has had an operational ASAT interceptor system since 1966. In wartime it would launch a satellite into the same orbit as an opponent's satellite. The ASAT satellite would then maneuver nearby and detonate a conventional fragmentation or a nuclear warhead to destroy its target. Thus, the interceptor system has posed a threat to an adversary's command, control, and communications, navigation, reconnaissance, and intelligencegathering satellites in low-earth orbits, a capability that would be critical in wartime.

By 1989 the Soviet Union was spending an estimated US$1 billion annually on scientific research into advanced technologies with potentially great ASAT and ABM applications, including ground-based laser, particle beam, radio frequency, and kinetic energy weapons. Soviet space programs also served Soviet missile and space defenses. In 1989 the Soviet effort in space was a broad-based one that included approximately 100 launches yearly, development of a reusable space shuttle and a spacecraft, and deployment of a third generation manned space station. These capabilities could also be used, for example, to conduct military operations in space, to repair and defend satellites, or to build and operate weapons platforms. Many Western analysts have concluded that the military directs the Soviet civilian space program.

Data as of May 1989