Russia plans to employ a range of military assets, including the MiG-31 interceptor aircraft, Il-76 transport aircraft, and 79M6 Kontakt missiles, as the primary means to execute its mission to engage and destroy satellites in orbit.
The Air Defense Forces of the Russian Federation (VKS) have reportedly embarked on a project aimed at developing a capability to shoot down satellites. This development was highlighted in 2018 when an unidentified black missile was observed under the fuselage of a MiG-31D aircraft. Subsequent reports suggest that this missile is a 79M6 Kontakt anti-satellite missile, which has been formally acknowledged by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The system being developed is highly adaptable and agile, comprising three components: the MiG-31D carrying the 79M6 Kontakt missile, the A60 Sokol-Echelon combat laser mounted on the IL-76 transport aircraft, and the Peresvet combat laser complex.
It is worth noting that the 79M6 Kontakt missile is not a new development, having been designed in the mid-1980s. Its primary purpose has always been to counteract enemy satellites in low orbit over Russian territory.
The VKS’s efforts to develop a sophisticated anti-satellite capability are a significant development that highlights Russia’s continued focus on military modernization and technological innovation.
In the mid-1980s, the A60 “Sokol-Echelon” combat laser complex was developed as the second part of the anti-satellite system, utilizing laser weapons and mounted on the A-60 aircraft. The choice of the MiG-31D as its carrier was purposeful, with only two produced. This Soviet-era fighter aircraft is capable of reaching Mach 3 speeds even while flying near the Earth’s atmosphere’s edge and carrying a substantial weapons payload. Despite its impressive capabilities, the MiG-31D fell out of the spotlight with the emergence of newer fighter aircraft.
However, the introduction and development of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile (Dagger) by Russia transformed the MiG-31 into the ideal missile carrier and restored its significance in the Russian air force. Nonetheless, the 79M6 Kontakt missile remains the weakest link in this anti-satellite system. Its capabilities are unknown as it has never undergone testing, and its status as an unfinished project was sealed with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Recent conflicts have highlighted the importance of information and information-sharing in military tactics. The United States provided Ukraine with the location of Russian troops utilizing satellite navigation or reconnaissance planes and drones equipped with satellite technology.
It should be noted that Russia is not the first country to consider satellites as a crucial element in future conflicts. The United States previously developed an anti-satellite system, the ASM-135 ASAT, which was tested in 1985. To carry out this task, a modified version of the F-15 Eagle was utilized, referred to as the MiG-31D.
Throughout the course of its development, the United States conducted five tests of the ASM-135 ASAT system. The results were mixed, with only one of the five tests being successful in bringing down a decommissioned NASA satellite.
There has been an increasing amount of commentary, not just regarding the possibility of a third world war, but also regarding the potential for space warfare. The four largest countries in the world, namely the United States, Russia, China, and India, are currently engaged in a fierce competition on this issue. Therefore, the revival of the Russian space program could prove advantageous for Moscow, in the event that humanity ever finds itself in the midst of a global space conflict.