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Georgian War Highlights Gaps in Russian Space Capabilities


‘s August incursion into
revealed a number of high-tech weaknesses with the latter’s military, including in the areas of satellite navigation and imaging, that the government plans to address next year through big increases in overall defense spending.

Following the war in
‘s restive
South Ossetia
region, Russian President DimitriMedvedev told a meeting of top commanders in the Kremlin that modernization of the Russian military has become a top priority. “There is no doubt that our decision [to re-equip the armed forces] has been influenced by the events in the
,” he said in remarks reported on national television Sept. 11.

Pukhov, a member of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council, said the conflict, in which
deployed troops to drive back Georgian forces from
South Ossetia
, highlighted
‘s lack of modern command, control, communications and information systems.

Colonel-General Vladimir Moltenskoi, deputy chief commander of the Russian land forces, listed the Glonass satellite navigation system among the weak elements of the Russian military infrastructure revealed by the conflict.

“There are problematic issues – they are being analyzed and solved,” he said Nov. 2. “These are the issues of reconnaissance, communication, means of radio-electronic combat and development of the Glonass global navigation system.”

told Space News that the five-day war highlighted a lack of space-based surveillance capabilities, navigation and targeting systems in the Russian military. In the absence of up-to-date satellite imagery and satellite-guided weapons,
‘s air force had to fly risky reconnaissance sorties and attack Georgian troop formations from low altitudes.

claims to have shot down 19 Russian warplanes during the conflict. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the general staff of
‘s armed forces, admitted to having lost four planes.

In space,Russia‘s first order of business appears to be replenishing the Glonass satellite navigation system by 2011. Hatched in the 1980s during the Cold War, the Glonass system, like many other Russian military satellite constellations, suffered from neglect and lack of funding following the fall of the Soviet Union. Currently, there are 17 Glonass satellites in orbit, according to the official Glonass Web site. Three more satellites are to be launched Dec. 25, according to the Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos.

In comments televised Sept. 15, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that he had signed an edict to add 67 billion rubles to the sum that federal authorities had been planning to spend on Glonass next year.

Reached by phone Sept.
18, a
senior Defense Ministry official declined to comment on how many billion rubles his agency would spend on military space. But the official said that some of the expenditures will go toward satellite reconnaissance systems.

‘s military launched a high-precision imaging satellite capable of transmitting data to Earth instantly in July. The military did not have a comparable satellite in orbit for the previous seven years, according to a statement posted July 28 on the Web site of the Defense Ministry’s Zvezda television channel. It is unclear whether that satellite was used during the campaign in
South Ossetia

Meanwhile, the Russian government has kept quiet about the status and plans for its early warning satellite programs.
currently has four operational missile warning satellites in orbit, according to PavelPodvig, researcher at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at
. They do not provide 24-hour coverage of
territory, but this does not appear to concern
, Podvig said in a written statement to Space News Nov. 5. Podvig said this suggests that “coverage of the
territory is no longer the primary mission of the system or at least they’ve given up on that.” Podvig conceded, however, that it is hard to tell what the Russian military is up to.
is working on a new satellite early warning system, but it is not clear when it will be ready, he added.