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Russia and Signals Intelligence

The Russian Federation is the only member of the European space community known to operate ELINT satellite systems. Since 1967 approximately 200 spacecraft have been orbited by the former Soviet Union/Russian Federation for dedicated ELINT missions. Additional spacecraft may have carried ELINT packages as secondary payloads. During 1993-1994, a total of 11 Russian ELINT spacecraft, representing three classes of vehicles, were launched, although one satellite failed to reach orbit due to a booster malfunction. At the beginning of 1995 the integrated Russian ELINT constellation consisted of 11 primary spacecraft.

Two of the three ELINT networks established and maintained by the USSR/CIS are believed to be global in nature, i.e., they are designed to detect land-based as well as sea. based electronic signals. The principal mode of operations is for each satellite to record the type of signal received and to determine the direction of the transmitter from the satellite's position. These data are then stored and forwarded to special receiving stations or are relayed in near realtime via data relay satellites. Analysts on the ground can then combine the data from seven satellites to pinpoint the location of the receiver and to determine the type of the emitter. For mobile targets, the frequency of ELINT overflights is crucial to maintaining an accurate knowledge of the target's position.

Historically, ELINT systems have played a major role in Soviet military doctrine. With the dramatic increase of radio and radar emitters on the battlefield during the past 30 years, the value of ELINT satellites has also risen. In the former Soviet Union, the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Soviet General Staff (GRU) was tasked with the primary responsibility for global ELINT satellite systems. Collection activities were managed by the Satellite Intelligence Directorate, while the data analysis function was performed by the Decrypting Service (References 63-65).

At the end of 1994 the Russian global ELINT satellite capability was distributed between a second-generation, store/dump system nearing the end of a long (15 year) service record and a more advanced model which will probably remain the principal intelligence gathering system for the remainder of this decade. The former has apparently been reduced to a constellation of three or less spacecraft, known as Tselina D, placed in orbital planes 30 degrees apart at altitudes of 635-665 km, while the latter is now represented by four spacecraft, known as Tslenia 2, in orbital planes 40 degrees apart at altitudes of 850 km.


63. D. Ball and R. Windrem, Soviet Signals Intelligence (SIGINT): Organization and Management, Reference Paper No. 168, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra, September 1989.

64. D. Ball, Soviet Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 47, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra, 1989.

65. C. Andrew and O. Gordievsky, KGB, The Inside Story, Harper Collins, Publisher, 1990, p. 609.

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