Russia’s newly created Aerospace Defense Forces officially went on duty on Thursday to become the country’s first line of defense against strategic military threats.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed the creation of the Aerospace Defense Forces, an analog of the European missile defense network to replace the Russian Space Forces, in 2010.
The new branch of the Russian Armed Forces brings together the country’s air defense and missile defense systems, as well as the early missile warning and space control systems, under a unified command. It is also responsible for launches of spacecraft from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia.
“The operational structure of our branch is working and will improve in line with the state armament program in the future,” Lt. Gen. Oleg Ostapenko said on Thursday, adding that over 3,000 military and civilian personnel will be on combat duty in aerospace defense units on a daily basis.
The current overhaul of Russia’s aerospace defenses is timely, considering new strategic challenges presented by the planned deployment of the U.S.-backed missile shield in Europe.
The Kremlin says the deployment of U.S. interceptor missiles and radars in Europe is a potential threat to the Russian nuclear arsenal, while Washington is trying to convince Moscow that the European missile shield poses no threat to Russia, as it is needed solely to protect against attack from "rogue states" such as Iran.
In response to the European missile shield plans Russia put a new early warning radar in service capable of monitoring missile launches from Europe and the North Atlantic in the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad on Tuesday.
The Voronezh-DM class radar has a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and can simultaneously track about 500 targets with high accuracy.
Two similar radars are ready to go on combat duty in Lekhtusi, outside St. Petersburg, and in Armavir in southern Russia, while the construction of the fourth Voronezh class radar will be completed in 2012 near the city of Irkutsk in Siberia.
The new radars will eventually replace the outdated Dnepr and Daryal class radars and close all gaps in radar coverage on Russia's borders.