Russia just lost its ability to detect incoming nuclear missiles

Russia space launchREUTERS/Shamil ZhumatovThe Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft blasts off from the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome November 24, 2014.

Russia just lost its early warning system for detecting ballistic missiles due to delays in the launch of its new “Tundra” advanced early warning system.

According to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, the system was due to replace ageing satellites launched as part of the Oko programme that had already exceeded their expected life-span of 5-7 years. The system had been beset by technical problems and in January this year the last two satellites, that were only operational for a few hours a day, finally went offline.

The “Tundra” satellites, designed to be capable of tracking tactical as well as ballistic missiles, were due to replace the ageing Oko system and were first scheduled for launch in 2013. However, technical problems delayed the programme with its revised launch date in 2014 already having been missed. It is now due to be launched “no earlier than June 2015”, according to Kommersant.

The loss of geostationary satellites risks weakening Russia’s early warning system for missile launches. Sources at the Russian Ministry of Defence claim that the loss is currently being compensated for by radar systems on the ground located in Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Irkutsk and Krasnodar regions of the country.

However, it is impossible to verify those claims.

What we know is that in September last year Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu called the creation of the Unified Space System Tundra was “one of the key areas of nuclear deterrence”. The repeated delays to the programme will be an embarrassment for the government that has pledged to boost high-tech industry in Russia and to the minister in particular who has taken a personal interest in the project.

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