October 28, 2014: Strategy Page
Russia recently announced that it would refurbish and reactivate the Cold War era Dnepr early-warning radar in Crimea that was closed in 2008 because of a rent dispute with Ukraine. Earlier in 2014 Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and is apparently confident enough in keeping it to make long-range investments like the $50 million or more it would take to get the Dnepr radar back in working order.
This announcement smacks of a publicity stunt. That’s because the Dnepr radar stations are all 1970s technology that, since the 1990s, have been replaced by cheaper (to buy and run) and more efficient radars. Then there is the problem of money being available. The price of oil, a major Russian export, has plunged 25 percent this year and is headed lower. The Defense Ministry has already announced that this will cause planned purchases of new equipment to be delayed or cancelled. Finally, there is a replacement for the Crimean Dnepr radar already under construction in southern Russia. This is one of the new Voronezh radars.
In 2013 Russia announced that they were speeding up deployments of its new Voronezh early-warning radar and will now have seven of them operational by 2018. That’s a few years ahead of schedule. These new radars will replace the Daryal radars and the even older models (like Dnepr) that Daryal was replacing but are still in service. The older early-warning radars were usually in areas that were part of the Soviet Union but are not in present day Russia. Thus, earlier this year Russia decided to shut down its Daryal type long range missile detection radar in Azerbaijan after the Azerbaijanis demanded that a new lease increase annual rent from $7 million to $300 million. Russia refused to pay and will shut down the Azerbaijan radar and dismantle it. The ten year lease ended on December 24, 2012. This radar went operational in 1983, and was supposed to be one of seven. But the end of the Cold War halted that project and only one other Daryal radar was built (on the north coast of Russia). That one detected missiles coming in over the North Pole from North America. The radar in Azerbaijan covered all of the Middle East and India. Its role will be assumed by the more modern Voronezh radar design that recently went into service on the Black Sea coast. Russia had offered to upgrade the Azerbaijan radar and pay more rent but not $293 million more a year. In addition, Russia has always paid Azerbaijan $5 million a year for electricity and $10 million a year for other services. About 500 Azerbaijanis were employed at the radar station, in addition to 1,100 Russians.
In 2012 Russia activated its fourth Voronezh early warning radar in Irkutsk, Siberia. This was the first of three to be built in eastern Russia. The other two will be in action by 2017. The Voronezh radars in Western Russia cost between $85 million and $128 million each, while those in eastern Russia (VP models) cost over 50 percent more because they cover a wider area. The Voronezh radar can detect incoming missiles up to 6,000 kilometers away, as can the Daryals. Three Voronezh M/DM radars were installed in Western Russia between 2005 and 2011. One is in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Another is on the east coast of the Black Sea (Armavir, due east of Crimea), while the third is at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea outside St Petersburg.
All this recent radar building activity was caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the destruction of the Russian ballistic missile early warning system. This came about because each of the fourteen new nations, carved out of the Soviet Union, got to keep whatever Soviet era government property was within the new borders. That meant many of the radar stations that formed the Soviet ICBM early warning system were now owned by foreign countries. A combination of disputes over money, and aging electronics, eventually put many of those early warning radars out of action. The two in Ukraine went off line in 2010. Russia was hoping to keep the Azerbaijan radar going but that was not to be.
The rising price of oil over the last decade provided Russia with the cash to rebuild its ballistic missile early warning radar system. The first one, outside St Petersburg, was built in 18 months (versus over ten years for the ones it replaced). The new design uses much less electricity, has a smaller staff, and is more reliable. Russia has adopted a lot of Western technology, and work practices, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it all showed in this radar station. The St. Petersburg facility replaced one that was in Latvia and was dismantled in 2003, after going off line in 1998. The one new radar in Armavir (on the Black Sea coast) was built to replace defunct Soviet era radars in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
The new early warning system is providing detection for missiles coming from all directions. Russian leaders proclaim NATO to still be the major threat but some of the radars face China, just in case.