This is how Lt.-Gen. Oleg Gromov, the deputy commander of the Space Forces for acquisitions, described Russian early-warning satellites. Speaking at a round table at the Federation Council on 11 November 2005, Gromov complained the Space Forces do not have the resources to bring the early-warning constellation to the “minimum necessary” level and [even if they had,] all that they have is the “hopelessly outdated” 71Kh6 and 73D6 spacecraft.

This is interesting. The 73D6 spacecraft is the one that is part of the first-generation US-KS/Oko system and could with some justification be considered old – these satellites have been around since mid-seventies. They have been deployed on highly-elliptical orbits as well as in the 24W geostationary point. As for the 71Kh6, it is a much more recent design, developed for the second-generation US-KMO system. The first spacecraft of this type is believed to have been launched in 1991, so it shouldn’t be all that “outdated”, at least not “hopelessly”. Or maybe it is.

The future of the Russian space-based early-warning system is quite uncertain. A few years ago the Russian military completed construction of the Eastern command and control center, which would allow to deploy geostationary satellites (second-generation ones, i.e. 71Kh6) to monitor the Pacific, but there are no satellites to deploy. The two most recent satellites of this type – Cosmos-2350 and Cosmos-2397 – failed soon after reaching the orbit and today there seems to be no second-generation satellites in orbit.

The Lavochkin Design Bureau, which was building early-warning satellites, seems to have a few of them in stock (one 71Kh6 and three 73D6 according to some reports), but the production seems to have discontinued a while ago. There have been reports about a program to develop new early-warning satellite that was initiated in 2000-2001, but the details are scarce and this program seems to be in disarray anyway.

On the other hand, who needs an early-warning system these days anyway?