Electronic Weapons: Russia Restores Its Long View

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January 10, 2018: Despite budget problems caused by lower oil prices and sanctions Russia has moved forward more quickly than expected in building and deploying its new Voronezh family of early-warning radars. In 2013 it was believed seven of the nine radar system would not be complete until 2018 but at the end of 2017 Russia announced that three more Voronezh radars (one M and two DM models) were operational. The three new ones monitor activity in China and the Middle East. Two more are under construction in northern Russia to monitor activity in North America while a tenth, and last one, is being planned for Crimea, which Russia took from Ukraine in 2014. The official reason for all these is new radars is that the government considers them essential to protect Russia from the growing possibility (according to Russian leaders) of nuclear attack by Western nations (America, Britain and France). As a practical matter the Voronezh radars are much cheaper to build, maintain and operate as well as being more reliable and capable than the older models. Russia also had to move some of these radars.

These new radars will replace the Daryal radars and the even older models that Daryal was replacing but are still in service. The older early-warning radars were usually in areas that were part of the Soviet Union but are not in present day Russia. Thus in 2013 Russia shut down its Daryal type long range missile detection radar in Azerbaijan after the Azerbaijanis demanded that a new lease increase annual rent from $7 million to $300 million. Russia refused to pay and shut down the Azerbaijan radar and dismantled it. The ten year lease ended on December 24, 2012. That radar went operational in 1983, and was supposed to be one of seven. But the end of the Cold War halted that project and only one other Daryal radar was built (on the north coast of Russia). That one detected missiles coming in over the North Pole from North America. The radar in Azerbaijan covered all of the Middle East and India. Its role has been assumed by the more modern Voronezh radar on the Black Sea coast. Russia had offered to upgrade the Azerbaijan radar and pay more rent but not $293 million more a year. In addition, Russia has always paid Azerbaijan $5 million a year for electricity and $10 million a year for other services. About 500 Azerbaijanis were employed at the radar station, in addition to 1,100 Russians. For Azerbaijan this was all about showing Russia that Azerbaijan was now independent, no matter what the cost.

In 2012 Russia activated its fourth Voronezh early warning radar in Irkutsk, Siberia. This was the first of three to be built in eastern Russia. The other two entered service, on schedule in 2017. The Voronezh radars in Western Russia cost between $50 million and $75 million each, while those in eastern Russia (VP models) cost over $100 million because they cover a wider area. The Voronezh radar can detect incoming missiles up to 6,000 kilometers away, as can the Daryals. Three Voronezh M/DM radars were installed in Western Russia between 2005 and 2011. One is in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Another is on the east coast of the Black Sea (Armavir), while the third is at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea outside St Petersburg.

All this recent radar building activity was caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the destruction of the Russian ballistic missile early warning system. This came about because each of the fourteen new nations carved out of the Soviet Union got to keep whatever government property was within the new borders. That meant many of the radar stations that formed the Soviet ICBM early warning system were now owned by foreign countries. The combination of disputes over money plus aging electronics eventually put many of those early warning radars out of action. The two in Ukraine went off line in 2010.

The rising price of oil from the 1990s through 2013 provided Russia with the cash to rebuild its ballistic missile early warning radar system. The first one, outside St Petersburg, was built in 18 months (versus over ten years for the ones it replaced). The new design uses much less electricity, has a smaller staff, and can be built using a lot of prefabricated modules. In fact, a Voronezh radar, because it uses digital AESA technology can go online before the radar is completely finished. That appears to be what happened with some of the Voronezh radars already in service.

Russia has adopted a lot of Western technology and work practices since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it all showed in these new radars. The St. Petersburg facility replaced one that was in Latvia and was dismantled in 2003, after going off line in 1998. The one new radar in Armavir (on the Black Sea coast) was built to replace defunct Soviet era radars in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

The new early warning system is providing detection for missiles coming from all directions. Russian leaders proclaim NATO to still be the major threat but latest ones to go online face China, just in case. In practice the new Voronezh phased array design is useful for monitoring test launches and because of the greater amount of detail Voronezh can detect these radars provide more information on what other nations are doing as they develop new ballistic missiles. Russia noted that their early-warning radar system detected fifty ballistic missile launches in 2017. Russia had rarely released data like that before but apparently that is more in line what Western (mainly American) long-range radars can detect.

 


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