In the face of ongoing global geopolitical tensions, the technological prowess of nations is under the spotlight, with satellite technology playing a pivotal role. As Ukraine leverages cutting-edge US satellite technology to guide precision rockets and stays connected via Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation, Russia is grappling with limitations posed by its aging satellite network. The Russian satellite constellation, Glonass, dating back to the 1980s, is proving to be less accurate and reliable than its American counterpart, GPS, impacting Russia’s ability to effectively use smart weapons.
Glonass was originally conceived as a rival to the US-run Global Positioning System, and its importance to Russia remains crucial as it offers protection against US efforts to deny Russia’s military from accessing GPS for precision-guided missiles. However, the outdated technology and significant inaccuracies of Glonass have necessitated workarounds, such as a massive new 3,300 pound bomb designed to compensate for technological deficiencies. This scenario underscores the importance of maintaining and upgrading satellite technology to ensure military effectiveness and competitiveness in the modern world.
A Look into Russia’s Aging Satellite Network and its Impact on Warfare
Glonass, an Aging Satellite Network
Russia’s reliance on an aging network of satellites, known as Glonass, is hampering its ability to use smart weapons effectively. Dating back to the 1980s, the Glonass constellation was developed as a rival to the US-run Global Positioning System (GPS). However, the American GPS constellation has since evolved, becoming a vital tool for a wide range of applications. While Russia has updated its satellites over the years, Glonass isn’t as accurate as GPS, impacting its war efforts.
Glonass’ Shortcomings and the Russian Military
The Glonass signals are less reliable and precise for satellite-guided weapons, forcing Russian military to resort to workarounds. One such workaround is the creation of massive 3,300 pound bombs designed to compensate for the inaccurate technology. According to Bruce McClintock, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corp, this is due to the Russians’ inability to get accurate munitions. Glonass’s shortcomings have resulted in significant inaccuracies in Russia’s advanced weaponry.
Fixing the Constellation: A Long-Delayed Effort
Despite the need for improvement, Russia’s efforts to fix the constellation have been delayed. A recent launch of a Glonass-K2 satellite is the first step towards a network upgrade projected to cost 484 billion rubles ($5 billion). However, this upgrade is coming too late to help in Ukraine. Furthermore, more than half of the Glonass’s satellites are outdated, and with more satellites nearing their use-by date, Russia will need to launch 20 new ones by the end of the decade.
Comparisons and Future Challenges
When compared to other networks such as GPS, China’s BeiDou, and the European Union’s Galileo, Glonass falls short, according to Craig Roberts, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales. The Russian network has poorer quality control stations on the ground and less accurate atomic clocks in space. Upgrading the system is expensive, and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has suffered from lost revenue since 2022, further complicating the Glonass update.
Despite the challenges, Russia is expected to continue efforts to upgrade the Glonass system due to its military importance. However, these efforts are likely to be hindered by financial constraints and technological limitations. Furthermore, even if Russia successfully upgrades the Glonass system, the current shortcomings could continue to impact its military operations in the foreseeable future.