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The Planned Soviet Union Space Weapons

The Cold War

By the time World War II came to an end, there were two dominating superpowers in the world: the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States wanted to spread democracy around the world, and the Soviet Union wanted to spread communism. This put them at odds, and when they no longer had the mutual goal of defeating Hitler, conflict arose. This conflict was known as the Cold War.

One major part of the Cold War was the space race. As the space race developed and space exploration became more and more realistic, the United States and the Soviet Union both started to prepare for war in space. There was suddenly a new frontier, and both powers wanted to maintain control of it, and they developed space planes, space stations, satellites, and cosmonaut guns to do so.

Satellites and Anti-Satellites

The start of the space race was a competition to see who could get a satellite into Earth’s orbit first. Both sides rushed to be the winner, but the engineers of the Soviet Union inevitably won when they launched Sputnik into space on October 4, 1957. This was monumental for people both in the Soviet Union and around the world, and while USSR engineers celebrated for a short period of time, they had to get right back to work in order to try and stay ahead. Over the next several years, satellite technology developed quickly as both countries launched and designed satellites for a variety of different purposes, many of them militant.

The first type of militant satellite launched into space was what is known as a reconnaissance satellite. This satellite was designed to take pictures of the other side’s military and movement. The earliest versions of these satellites did not send back very clear images or data, but as technology developed, the leaders of the Soviet Union grew increasingly concerned that the United States would gain too much information with these satellites, so they began to develop anti-satellite weaponry. Engineers designed some of this weaponry to only jam signals while other weaponry was launched into space to fire shrapnel missiles and directly destroy the enemy satellites.

Beyond these initial reconnaissance and defensive satellites, the Soviet Union and the United States both developed satellites that acted as kamikazes, direct energy weapons, and nuclear satellites. Nuclear weapon development was a big part of the cold war and eventually combined with the space race as both sides developed nuclear satellites. These satellites did not actually hold nuclear weapons, but rather they were designed to allow the Soviet Union to control ballistic missiles and send them directly to targets a long-distance away.

Space Planes

In the late 1950s, the United States began a program to develop a spaceplane known as the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar that they could use in any future space wars. When the news of this new program reached the Soviet Union, they knew that they needed to develop a spaceplane of their own; therefore, the Soviet Union immediately put together a secret program codenamed as Spiral. Engineers on this team worked to develop a reusable spacecraft that could be launched from an aircraft carrier and complete a variety of different tasks depending on the modification it used.

The first role that the plane could take is a reconnaissance plane. The plane would rise to 130 km above sea level and then monitor various things (such as weapons) both in space and on Earth. It could then record and transfer information such as coordinates to strike planes. Strike planes would then launch missiles with nuclear warheads towards the Earth. As long as they hit within 200 meters of their target, they would successfully destroy it.

The other task that these planes were designed to complete was short-range combat and carried six self-guided missiles that could target objects within 30 km. There were also long-range combat planes that could hit targets such as space ships as far as 350 km away.

The engineers of Spiral completed their design and built prototypes of the plane that were tested by famous Soviet cosmonauts such as German Titov, the second human to ever orbit the Earth in space. There were several successful manned test flights within Earth’s atmosphere and one successful unmanned test flight in space. Despite the success that the program had, it was inevitably ended because of an astounding negative response from the USSR’s aerospace leaders. Most claimed that it drained too much money from the budget, not allowing for other key projects.

Space Combat Station

From the beginning, a major component of the Soviet Union’s space warfare plan was to design and send into orbit combatant space stations. There were three main programs designed to develop said space stations. The programs were codenamed Diamond, Scythian, and Cascade. Diamond was the first of these three programs and also got the farthest developmentally with successful manned missions. The program was advertised publically as a civilian and peaceful project, but there was a cannon attached to the bottom of the station. In order to aim said cannon, the entire spacecraft had to move in the direction of the target.

In 1972 a treaty called the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems was signed by the USSR, which should have ceased the development of most of these combat stations. However, the Soviet Union carried on to create and fund two more programs.

Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile System.The S-300VM
Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile System.The S-300VM by Vitaly V. Kuzmin is licensed under CC-BY-SA

The engineers of the next two programs, Scythian and Cascade, worked off of the progress made by Diamond. There were some similarities between all three programs. For instance, the stations developed were also supposed to look peaceful until activated by the military. Because they were in competition with the United States, it was beneficial for them to keep the reality behind their project secret, so they did not know what kind of space weaponry they were going to have. They also wanted to keep it secret to avoid conflict over the broken treaty.

There was some truth behind the peaceful appearance as there were a variety of peaceful tasks that these stations were designed to complete, but they all were equipped with weaponry designed to target and destroy spacecraft, intercontinental missiles, and other naval, ground, and air targets. The main differences between the three space crafts were what the weaponry was. As stated before, the spacecraft from program Diamond were armed with rapid-fire cannons. Cascade stations were designed to stay in low-orbit and fire missiles at targets. Scythian stations were designed to destroy targets from mid-range to geostationary orbit. However, both Cascade and Scythian were mostly theoretical as Diamond was the only program of the three to actually launch stations.

Cosmonaut Weapons

It is clear that many of the weapons developed for space war by the Soviet Union were kept secret, including the development of a laser pistol and other guns designed to be carried by cosmonauts. This weapon, designed for cosmonaut soldiers to use, was not even discovered until later after the cold war had ended.

Cosmonaut Survival TP-82 Triple-Barrel Hand Gun by Kelly Michals is licensed under CC-BY-NC

The start of this laser pistol was at Peter the Great RSVN Academy, which trained the nations leading engineers. This gun was actually developed in tandem with the space station created by the program Diamond. There is little information about the true purpose of these pistols, but many theorize that the USSR was preparing for face to face combat aboard the station. However, the weapon would never have been able to actually kill a combatant. It may have only been able to blind a human, but it could also have been used to take out the optical systems on a satellite or spacecraft.

The main problem that engineers of these pistols came across was the bulb that created the laser flash would go out with one use. That is why the pistols were fashioned with a cartridge of ‘bullets.’ The pistol cartridge carried a total of eight bullets, and there was also a semi-automatic revolver developed that could carry six bullets.

The End

Inevitably, with the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union fell, and all of the projects came to an end. With the end of the Cold War, the prospect of a space war was no longer in the forefront of most people’s minds, but that does not mean the development of space weapons ceased completely. Today, there are still a variety of countries developing militant spacecraft and satellite. Some of which have not yet come into fruition, such as a space weapon that shoots streams of molten metal down onto enemies walking on the Earth, which are currently being developed by DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Others have been completed and tested, such as the X-37B that has gone on four missions, yet no one really knows what its purpose is yet. There are some theories that say the plane may be used for bombings from space, and/or interfering with enemy satellites, performing reconnaissance. There are even projects that remain completely theoretical, such as a proposed program by NASA to develop a weapon that can manipulate an asteroid to make it hit a certain location on Earth

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