K. Lantratov Novosti Kosmonavtiki, No. 10, December 27, 2000, p. 25

Potential Russian satellite cluster participation in Kursk submarine rescue operation

The nuclear missile-carrying cruiser submarine of the first class Kursk of project 949A Antey sunk on August 12 in the Barents Sea. During the rescue operation, which unfortunately failed, some space assets were also used. Unjustified hopes were laid on some other systems. Here are only a few reports of news agencies and short comments to them.

“Satellites of the Parus system belonging to the Russian naval navigation cluster, are fully used for provision of normal communication among combat ships staying in the area of the Kursk nuclear submarine catastrophe in the Barents Sea. Due to the work of satellites rescue teams also receive entire necessary navigation information.” (August 15, ITAR-TASS)

This is natural, because the Parus satellites provide functioning of the Tsiklon naval communication and Tsunami-B navigation systems. The Kursk itself was also equipped with such systems. This is probably the only report which causes no doubt.

On August 18, ITAR-TASS reported that “the version of the Kursk submarine crash with a multitonnage civil ship can be checked with assistance of documents of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces space systems.” The Defense Ministry reported to the correspondent of ITAR-TASS that the satellite cluster had recorded the situation in the Barents Sea at the moment of tragedy. “If presence of a dry cargo ship or another civil multitonnage ship in this area is detected, the version of crash may be confirmed. That the search for the tragedy’s reasons will be narrowed, and the prosecutor’s office and transport police may begin their work,” added the spokesperson for the Defense Ministry.

It was primarily the Cosmos-2367 maritime space reconnaissance and target designation satellite of the US-PU type delivered to orbit on December 26, 1999, which could track surface ships in the military exercises area. Such satellites are operated by the Navy, and are intended for detection and finding of direction of electromagnetic signals emitted by ships of the likely enemy’s navy. According to the radio electronic noise parameters it is possible to find coordinates, course, and type of the ship. The Cosmos-2367 could record such picture of the exercises area. However, its orbit has inclination of 65 degrees. The latitude of the catastrophe point is 60 degrees 40 minutes, that is, it is located 5 degrees from the most northern point of the satellite’s orbit. However a simple calculation shows that the US-PU could sea the exercises area if, of course, it could perform surveillance not only downward but also sideward. At the moment of the tragedy there was also the only Russian Cosmos-2370 optronic surveillance satellite of the Neman type, launched on May 3, 2000, in orbit. Its inclination is 64.8 degrees, hence theoretically the Neman could also observe the exercises area. However the distance between the satellite and the place of catastrophe was about 550 kilometers with a small observation angle in the best case. It is necessary to note that the Neman is equipped with the system for quick information transmission via the Geiser repeater satellite. At present there are two such satellites in the geostationary orbit (the last launched on July 5, 2000). That is why should the Neman observe the area results of this observation would have been quickly sent to the Defense Ministry. At any rate, would seem strange that a Russian satellite observes the area of Russian naval exercises.

Technically it is also possible to receive information about the exercises area from the Ikonos commercial satellite for earth surface mapping with resolution of 1 meter, but for this purpose it is necessary to submit a relevant application to Space Imaging. The Russian Defense Ministry would hardly appeal to a private American company for assistance. Foreign rescue teams could use the services of Ikonos, but, on August 23 Press Secretary of Armed Forces of Northern Norway Jon Espen Lien reported to RIA Novosti that “Norwegian military does not have information received from the space satellites which were mapping the area of the Kursk submarine catastrophe.” He explained that these satellites belong to commercial companies, “and if there is a wish it is possible to gain the collected information easily simply buying it.”

The press also actively discussed the version of the Kursk death because of collision with a foreign submarine staying in the exercises area. A number of Russian editions said with assurance that Russia possessed satellites, which could track submerged submarines.

Unfortunately, no such satellites have been developed in Russia so far, although in late 1970s-early 1980s it was planned to begin development of the maritime space reconnaissance and target designation system of the second generation Ideogramma-Pirs including the Pirs-1 and Pirs-2 systems. The Moscow-based Central Research and Production Association Kometa was the author of the project. The system had to be developed in two stages. At the first stage designers had to create a system for detection and identification of surface ships with the Pirs-1 space system (the draft project had to be prepared in 1982). At the second stage designers had to create additional devices Pirs-2 for submerged submarines detection. Enterprises of the General Machine Building Ministry (Energiya Research and Production Association, Arsenal Production Association, Machine Building Research and Production Association) were tasked to design the system on a tender basis. Only Arsenal prepared the draft project in 1982. To confirm the physical principles of submerged submarines detection Kometa began development of the Farvater experimental system.

The Navy issued specifications for the system in September 1982, and in September 1983 the Main Space Department of the Defense Ministry issued specifications for the Pirs-1 and Farvater. Kometa Central Research Institute and Arsenal presented their technical proposals. However, due to conflicts between the Radio Industry Ministry and General Machine Building Ministry technical proposals for the Ideogramma-Pirs and Farvater were not coordinated. The Navy and the Main Space Department of the Defense Ministry recommended the presented materials as the basis for draft designing of the system of the first stage and elimination of drawbacks. It was offered to improve materials for the second stage until the customer is absolutely content. In December 1984, governmental resolution set up the deadline for the Ideogramma-Pirs (1990 for the first stage, 1993 for the second stage).

Chief Designer of Kometa Valery Bondur spoke about the principles on which equipment for submerged submarines detection worked. According to him, with assistance of authentic methods an optical image of water surface received by a special way is transformed into a two-dimensional space and frequency spectrum with assistance of a laser beam cluster in the Spektr-RM device. This information is transmitted to the ground post in real time. A high-speed computer checks parameters of anomalies in the ocean detecting a moving underwater object. The system was thoroughly tested, and results of the trials were perfect. However, due to cutback of financing in early 1990s the work on the second stage of the Ideogramma-Pirs was suspended. That is why Russian military could not observe underwater situation in the area of the Kursk catastrophe.