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MARCH 2021

What Do We Know About Russian ‘Satellite Killer Weapon’ – Nudol?

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In 2014 it was unveiled that Russia was working on the A-235 Nudol anti-missile defense system, dubbed the Satellite Killer. It is to replace the A-135 Amur system, which covers Moscow and the central industrial region (from Bryansk to Kostroma, about 486,000 sq. Km) and equipped with silo-based antimissiles.

According to media reoports, the initial contract for the creation of the A-235 system was signed in 1991, and the completion of the project was scheduled for 2015. The initial project for the modernization of the A-135 was set out in soviet times on June 7th, 1978. However, the development of the system seems to be still ongoing.

The main contractor for the project is Almaz-Antey, who created the S-300, S-400 and is working on the S-500. Presumably, the A-235 will receive a supercomputer “Elbrus-3M”, a radar station “Don-2N” and two echelons of large and medium-range interceptors. The Don-2N radar station, which resembles a Maya pyramid, has one objective and it is to detect enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles and direct the A-235 Nudol antimissile system.

It is to operate in three stages: long-range, based on the 51T6 and capable of destroying targets at distances up to 1500 km (930 miles), at altitudes up to 800,000 m; medium-range, an update of the 58R6, designed to hit targets at distances up to 1000 km (620 miles), at altitudes up to 120,000 m; and short-range (the 53T6M or 45T6 (based on the 53T6)), with an operating range of 350 km (215 miles) and a flight ceiling of 40,000-50,000 m.

According to military experts, the future of the missile defense systems A-235 and S-500 will form the basis for the comprehensive, integrated aerospace defense system of Russia, which will include a variety of modern ground-based detection tools.

Most recently, on January 20th, commercial satellite imagery allowed to find a testing range for the A-235 anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite weapon system in the area of Plestesk spaceport in northern Russia.

Media reports pointed November 18th, 2015 as the first successful launch of the Nudol missile, while overall it was the third launch from the system. In May 2016, system elements were tested as part of the exercises of the Military Space Forces of the Russian Federation.

More recently, media reports suggested that in 2018 the A-235 Nudol was successfully tested twice in 2018. The of the two tests took place on March 26th. The second test was reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense on December 1st, 2018, it was the 7th test overall. The weapon flew for 17 minutes and reached an apogee of 1,864 miles. According to CNBC, the missile flew with 10 600 km/h or almost 3 km/s, according to CIA data.

In 2019’s Pentagon Missile Defense Review the report concluded that “Russia is developing a diverse suite of anti-satellite capabilities, including ground-launched missiles and directed-energy weapons, and continues to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities to advance counterspace capabilities.”

After a 2016 test of the A-235, former Pentagon official Mark Schneider warned that the consequences of an anti-satellite attack on the U.S. could be devastating. “The loss of GPS guidance due to [anti-satellite] attack would take out a substantial part of our precision weapons delivery capability and essentially all of our standoff capability.”

Separately, Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said in the same year that “Russia views U.S. dependency on space as an exploitable vulnerability, and they are taking deliberate actions to strengthen their counter-space capabilities.”

Russian military expert Alexey Leonkov also commented on the A-235, according to him, Russia is rushing to develop the missile defense system, since the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty put it in a disadvantage.

“It is clear that this is not enough, but unlike the Americans, we did not build new missile defense areas and complied with the terms of this agreement. So, the creation of this complex is the response of the Russian Federation to these actions of the United States.” He also noted that the INF Treaty falling through called for the modification of the A-235 to be mobile, rather than static.

According to him, in addition to mobility and anti-missile defense, the A-235 also provides much needed protection from space-based threats. According to him, in the case of a global conflict, small satellite groups would be launched into space to carry out various military operations. The destruction of said groups would then be a way to get the edge in the conflict.

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