Russian anti-satellite systems


A Rockot booster emerges from its launch container at a ground facility in Plesetsk, carrying a commercial payload. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev

After the retirement of its original anti-satellite system, the USSR did not give up its goal of developing and deploying anti-satellite weapons. In the first half of the 1980s, a brand new anti-satellite system had appeared on the drawing board. This time, it was apparently viewed as an integral part of a comprehensive anti-missile defense shield, which could become the Soviet response to Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars."

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as the Soviet leader and in May 1987, he came to Baikonur for a long-awaited visit. Among the technologies, demonstrated to Gorbachev at the launch site was the older IS spacecraft and a prototype of the next-generation anti-satellite platform called "Naryad" (Sentry), also known as 14F11.

General Zavalishin, who showed Gorbachev around the exhibit in Baikonur, used the opportunity to advocate the resumption of the orbital anti-satellite tests. Zavalishin reminded Gorbachev about similar work in the US and he promised to cover up the anti-satellite launches, so nobody would ever suspect the tests had been actually taking place. As Zavalishin recalls, in response "...Gorbachev went into incoherent and wordy explanations, which concluded with a polite, but resolute refusal."(100) Ironically, only few days after this conversation, on May 15, 1987, the first heavy-lift Energia rocket lifted off from Baikonur, carrying the Skif DM (Polyus) spacecraft, which was later described as a prototype of a "battle station" in space. Among other things, the Polyus could reportedly carry anti-satellite weapons.

Like the Skif "battle station," the Naryad system was under development at the KB Salyut design bureau led by D. A. Polukhin, with E. G. Sizov as a leading designer of the project. (526)

The Naryad was designed to ride into space aboard a silo-based UR-100NU missile, which would be upgraded with a highly maneuverable upper stage. This space tug was later declassified for commercial use under name Briz-K. In turn, Briz-K was apparently designed to release one or several rocket-powered "kill vehicles" developed at Nudelman's OKB-16 design bureau and capable of intercepting orbiting satellites at altitudes of up to 40,000 kilometers -- much higher than the reach of the previous IS system.

OKB-16's interceptor would be released at its target under guidance from Naryad's launch platform. The interceptor could adjust its trajectory with short bursts of four liquid-propellant thrusters installed at the center of the vehicle perpendicularly to its flight path. Upon approaching its target, the interceptor would home in on it with the help of a self-guiding warhead developed at KB Geophysika in Moscow. The interceptor would then switch to autonomous control with the help of its onboard computer. (526)

Along with destroying enemy satellites, the capability of the Naryad system to intercept warheads of ballistic missiles during various phases of their flight or even a possibility of hitting targets on the ground were also rumored.

The Soviet government authorized the construction of several experimental vehicles for the project with the first tests planned around 1987.

Naryad's propulsion system

To propel Naryad's Briz-K space booster, KB Salyut requested the KB Khimmash propulsion bureau to develop a new engine capable of multiple firings in space. KB Khimmash had an extensive experience in propulsion systems for prolonged operations in space, such as the 11D417 engine for Luna-15-24 lunar probes, 11D425 for Mars series and S5.92 for a new-generation Fobos platform. However managers at KB Salyut demanded from KB Khimmash even more thrust, endurance and an unprecedented capability for such a large engine to make as much as 75 firings in space, along with lower pressure in its propellant tanks. All these improvements had to be achieved with a simultaneous mass reduction in the overall engine, which received a designation S5.98. At the end of the 1980s, the new propulsion system went through a series of live-firing tests, before being shipped to Baikonur for actual launches. (526)

According to multiple Russian sources, the first sub-orbital mission of the Rockot booster with the Naryad-V payload lifted off from Baikonur on November 11, 1990. The second Naryad mission flew in December 1991, just days before the fall of the Soviet Union. Although both missions followed ballistic trajectories, without reaching the Earth's orbit, the Naryad's maneuverable platform apparently demonstrated capability to conduct multiple engine firings. Possibly, this flight profile was designed to comouflage the launches as routine ballistic missile tests.

Post-Soviet period

Although the large-scale Soviet "Star Wars" program had never materialized, the Naryad project lingered on, even during the post-Soviet chaos.

By 1994, the Russian Ministry of Defense and the industry apparently made a decision to launch the last Rockot booster remaining in Baikonur in connection with the Naryad program. Since the military units responsible for Rockot operations had been virtually disbanded by that time, the 8th Testing Directorate and the 2nd Test Center in Baikonur had to form a special task force at Military Unit No. 55056 to conduct the mission. Nevertheless, the successful launch was conducted on Dec. 26, 1994, from a silo facility No. 175/1, reportedly delivering Radio-ROSTO and the Naryad anti-satellite into orbit, where the latter immediately exploded. The Rockot task force was then disbanded and all Naryad operations were officially transferred to Plesetsk. (525)

During the first decade of the 21st century, the real status of the Naryad project remained unclear, however small bits of information leaking into the open Russian press allowed to speculate that it has remained "on the table." For example, the account of President Putin's visit to Khrunichev enterprise published on January 23, 2002, in the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Defense Ministry, mentioned the availability of the Naryad system as a potential response to any US decision to withdraw from the antimissile defense treaty. The company's management reportedly promised Putin to quickly integrate the Naryad system in the nation's anti-missile defense network. The project was mentioned again during one of Khrunichev's anniversary gatherings in the 2000s.

Although many military space projects from the Soviet period have been documented in open Russian sources, the history of the Naryad project remained mostly under wraps, beyond declassification of its existence and its name. In the meantime, reports from Russia have continuously showed that increasing military budgets have afforded Russian authorities to jump-start some dormant weapons development programs.

Advertising the system

In 2007, China conducted a satellite intercept and a year later, the US "responded" with a thinly veiled demonstration of the capability to shoot down orbiting satellites. These developments likely prompted the Russian government to launch a media campaign advertising the nation's old and new anti-satellite assets. In March 2009, the Kremlin disseminated through official media channels details about various programs, which the country could use for anti-satellite purposes. According to the Russian military officials, the country "retained basic assets" in Naryad-VN and Naryad-VR systems. There was no explanation what was the difference between two sub-systems. At the same time, a government-controlled Russia Today TV channel quoted deputy defense minister Vladimir Popovkin as saying that Russian military was developing anti-satellite weapons in response to US and China conducting the same activities. "We can’t sit and watch others do it. I can only say similar works are done in Russia too," Popovkin said. He added that Russia needed the capability to shoot down satellites in case "somebody put weapons into space."

In January 2010, the commander of the Russian space forces Oleg Ostapenko echoed previous statements, telling the official ITAR-TASS news agency that Russia would be able to respond to threats from space. "The USSR was developing inspection and strike spacecraft," Ostapenko said, "...Our policy - there should be no war in space, but we are military people and should be ready for everything. Our activities in this direction would be dependent on others, but trust me, we would be able to respond quickly and adequately."


Possible Naryad flight tests:

Date Booster Payload Launch Site Launch Pad Orbit
1990 Nov. 20
Naryad-V anti-satellite
1991 Dec. 20
Experimental, Naryad test?
Site 175/1
1994 Dec. 26
Radio-ROSTO, Naryad test?
Site 175/1
1,900 km/65 deg.



Article and photography: Anatoly Zak; last update: March 5, 2024

Editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: February 24, 2008


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An artist rendering of a Rockot booster with a Briz-K stage and a possible satellite interceptor. Credit: Khartron.


A scale model of a Soviet maneuverable spacecraft, which could be used as an anti-satellite weapon or a missile interceptor, likely developed by Nudelman's design bureau within the Naryad, 14F11 project. Compare to the American EKV anti-satellite below. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


A 1:2 model of an early version of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, EKV, developed by Hughes (later Raytheon) to intercept long-range ballistic missiles beyond the dense Earth atmosphere in a direct "hit-to-kill" collision. EKV would be launched by the Ground-Based Interceptor, GBI, missiles deployed in Alaska and California. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak


Circa 1980s, Homing Overlay Experiment, HOE, system developed by the US army would deploy a 4-meter web for a hit-to-kill destruction of the enemy missile. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak.

The Rockot booster. The configuration on the left possibly incorporates the Naryad platform. Click to enlarge: 263 x 500 pixels / 28K Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A Briz upper stage during the assembly (shown upside down). Credit: Eurockot


The S5.92 engine originally developed for the Naryad project was designed to fire as much as 75 times. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak


In 1991, American engineers tested a prototype of the Light-weight Exoatmospheric Projectile Kinetic Kill Vehicle, LEAP KKV, in a special facility on the ground. Operational versions of the device were then fitted onto Standard Missile-3, SM-3, and deployed on US Navy ships with an official goal of protecting them from short- and medium-range missiles. However, in February 2008, the same system was used to destroy a satellite. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak


E. G. Sizov led the Naryad development at KB Salyut. Credit: GKNPTs Khrunichev