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Cablegate: Russia's Glonass: Lost in Space

VZCZCXYZ5530
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMO #0638/01 0661455
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061455Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7049

UNCLAS MOSCOW 000638

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KSCA PREL PARM TSPA RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S GLONASS: LOST IN SPACE

REF: (A) STATE 19459
(B) MOSCOW 01637

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) In late 2007, First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov trumpeted
the launch of three new satellites that were to complete the GLONASS
system's coverage of Russia and challenge GPS in the commercial
navigation market. Soon after, however, news reports revealed that
the system had serious flaws, and that commercialization was still
months or years away. Ivanov was quick to point blame at Anatoly
Perminov, Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and
publicly ordered that ambitious space projects be put on the back
burner until GLONASS is operational. Since then, Roscosmos has been
scrambling to get GLONASS on track, but faces major impediments,
including making its 18 satellites fully operational, and spurring
the production of parts and equipment needed to commercialize the
system. End summary.

-----------------------
Short-Lived Celebration
-----------------------

2. (U) In December 2007, Russia launched three new satellites as
part of its Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). First
Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov proclaimed that the launches
enlarged the GLONASS satellite fleet to 18, the number required to
provide commercial navigation services covering all of Russia. The
announcement appeared to fulfill his pledge to President Putin to
have GLONASS operational and commercially available in Russia by
2008. At the time of the announcement, Ivanov predicted that the
GLONASS system which requires 24 satellites would be available
worldwide by 2010. Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov predicted at the
time that "...the sellers of GPS services will lose their monopoly."


3. (U) The euphoric mood was short-lived, however, as Russian
newspapers reported that only 13 of the 18 satellites in the fleet
were actually operational. The others had been withdrawn from orbit
for maintenance or had not successfully joined the network. The 13
functioning satellites covered only 50 percent of Russia's
territory, and even that coverage was sporadic. Russian daily
Nezavisimaya Gazeta commented that "what we are witnessing is not
the success of GLONASS, but a revival of the Soviet tradition of
over-committing, claiming to exceed targets, and then engaging in
window dressing."

4. (U) On January 23 Ivanov publicly criticized Perminov for
Roscosmos' failure to have GLONASS ready, and ordered that the
Agency's space exploration programs be put on the back burner until
GLONASS is working. Ivanov charged that "Working on such
large-scale and correspondingly wasteful projects (such as missions
to the moon or Mars) purely to satisfy our own ambitions or to
achieve some kind of fantastic goal is something we have no right to
do." Perminov blamed a lack of funding for the delays, and pledged
to shift priorities in 2008. There has been widespread speculation
that Perminov could be dismissed over the issue.

---------------
Roscosmos' View
---------------

5. (SBU) In a recent meeting, Roscosmos officials told us that there
are currently 16 satellites in orbit. Only 14 are currently
operating, but the Agency hopes that the remaining two will be
functional "soon." Once that occurs, coverage within Russian
territory should reach at least 81 percent, and global coverage
should be at least 65 percent.

6. (SBU) Roscosmos also told us that it is working on the
commercialization of GLONASS, but is hampered by a number of issues.
First, a system operator has not been selected. This means that
while Roscosmos works to get sufficient satellites in place, there
is no group in charge of developing commercial applications on the
ground. Second, the Federal Agency on Industry (Rosprom), which
reports to the Ministry of Industry and Energy, was originally
responsible for manufacturing commercial navigation equipment with
federal funds. However, Rosprom told Roscosmos that it would not be
ready to produce GLONASS receiving equipment until 2010. Perminov
therefore ordered his own Agency's Scientific Research Institute
(SRI), which normally produces space devices to produce the
equipment.

7. (SBU) SRI has designed one navigation device that uses both GPS
and GLONASS. Roscosmos explained to us that SRI manufactured 1000
of these devices, which reportedly sold out immediately, and that
they have committed to producing 1500 - 2000 of the units each
month. However, we have yet to see these devices on store shelves.
Roscosmos noted that they have an agreement to sell integrated
GPS/GLOSNASS devices through the Russian chain of electronics stores
called "ION." Roscosmos hesitated to predict to us when
GLONASS-only receivers would be commercially available, but offered
the possibility of 2011 "if all goes well."

---------------------
Private Sector Adapts
---------------------

8. (U) GLONASS' problems have not impacted Russian drivers and other
users of navigation technology -- they are simply purchasing
foreign-produced GPS devices. Although work to digitize Russian
maps has just begun here, maps digitized outside Russia are
available for download on the internet. Meanwhile, Russia's private
sector navigation equipment producers face hurdles. One company,
the JJ Group, reports that a shortage of chipsets (microchips that
decode satellite signals and calculate coordinates) is stalling its
production of dual-band GPS/GLONASS receivers. The company notes
that as soon as its suppliers can provide more chipsets, they are
ready to produce the navigators.

-------
Comment
-------

9. (SBU) The failure thus far to develop GLONASS into a commercially
viable system bodes ill for Roscosmos. It also foreshadows the
hurdles to be faced by other "State Corporations" that the GOR has
either created, such as Rosnanotech in an attempt to transform
Russia's scientific agencies into economically profitable ventures.
The GOR's attempts to serve in roles that are often filled by the
private sector in the U.S., such as supplying capital and developing
commercial applications, have in the case of GLONASS in any case, so
far failed to provide the flexibility and market responsiveness
necessary in the fast-moving world of information technology.

BURNS

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