Russia May Have Accidentally Revealed its New Military Satellites, IHS Markit Reports

Details visible in background of photo released by Russian Ministry of Defence and analysed by Jane’s Intelligence Review appear to confirm existence of previously unknown Russian military satellite.

LONDON--()--IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions, today released a report identifying what appears to be a previously unknown Russian military satellite program.

Key points:

  • Analysis of the photograph by Jane’s Intelligence Review identifies what appears to be a previously unknown Russian military satellite program named ‘Repei’.
  • The photograph was released following a low-profile visit by Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu to the ISS Reshtnev satellite factory near Krasnoyarsk.
  • It is possible the photograph was released as part of an intentional leak – Russia has used this tactic in the past.
  • However, the absence of the photograph from the Russian MoD website suggests that the leak may have been unintentional.

On 6 June, a delegation headed by Russian Minister of Defence (MoD) Sergei Shoigu visited the ISS Reshetnev satellite factory near Krasnoyarsk. Intended to acquaint Russia’s leadership with the company’s military products, it was a relatively low-key visit that was not even mentioned on the company’s website.

Several photographs of the visit taken by a TASS photographer were released by the Russian MoD and subsequently appeared on the Press Association and Getty websites.

One of the photographs showed the delegation inspecting a board containing information on a geostationary satellite identified as the ‘Repei-S’ and what appears to be a sister satellite named ‘Repei-V’ that will fly in highly elliptical orbits. Significantly, the name Repei (meaning ‘burdock’) had not previously been associated with any Russian satellite project known in open sources.

What are the Repei satellites?

The satellite shown in the photograph has a pair of large antennae, indicating it could be either a communications satellite or a signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellite intended for intelligence collection.

Writing in a forthcoming feature for Jane’s Intelligence Review, Bart Hendrickx – an experienced observer of the Russian space programme – assesses that Repei may be one of two things:

  • New Russian military signals intelligence satellites. Repei-S and Repei-V may be the first Russian SIGINT satellites destined for geostationary and highly elliptical orbits. This would represent an expansion of Russia’s intelligence collection capabilities in an area where, as Hendrickx assesses, Moscow’s capabilities lag behind those of China and the US.
  • New military communications satellites. Several Russian press reports have indicated that ISS Reshetnev is working on a new generation of military communications satellites, identified as Sfera-S (intended to replace the Raduga-1M geostationary constellation) and Sfera-V (intended to replace the Meridian constellation in highly elliptical orbits). It is possible that Repei is an alternative name for Sfera.

Was the leak accidental?

Although the other photographs from the visit were accessible at the time of publication, the picture showing the Repei board was unavailable on the MoD’s website. Jane’s assesses that the photograph could have been removed from the ministry’s website once it became clear that it unintentionally identified the Repei satellite.

Alternatively, the release of the photograph could represent a deliberate leak, similar to the apparently intentional leak of supposedly classified information about the development of a nuclear torpedo, the Status-6, on Russian state television in November 2015.

However, if this was a deliberate leak, it has so far received far less prominence in Russian media than the Status-6 leak. In addition, the photograph’s absence from the ministry’s website would support the assessment that the leak was genuinely accidental.

Notes:

Bart Hendrickx has written extensively on Soviet and Russian space history for 25 years. He is the co-author of the book Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle.

Jane’s Intelligence Review is a monthly security and intelligence publication produced by IHS Markit.

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