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17 Nov, 2013 10:36

Spy fears: CIA, Pentagon ‘work against’ Russia building GLONASS station in US

US intelligence and military are pressing the State Department not to license construction of monitor stations for Russia’s GLONASS navigation system on US territory, media reveals. The stations reportedly spark fears of spying opportunities.

Moscow sent a request to build monitor stations for GLONASS, a Russian satellite system similar to GPS, on US territory in May 2012.

The White House has been pondering over the proposal ever since. A number of meetings between Russian and American authorities on the GLONASS monitor stations in the US have taken place, but so far US security and military agencies have not agreed about how to react to Moscow’s request.

The CIA and Pentagon suspect that such stations could be used for collecting intelligence data and other military purposes, like collecting exact coordinates of covert facilities in the US for precision missile guidance, a weekend report in The New York Times revealed.

In recent months, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos… to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil,” the report alleges, quoting anonymous US officials.

The concerns are that the stations might help Moscow spy on the US as well as improve the precision of Russian weaponry.

Boris Zyryanov, chief of division of electric and radio tests of navigating satellites, supervises the electric testing of the GLONASS-M space navigation satellite (Reuters / Ilya Naymushin)

Also, American lawmakers don’t like the idea of cooperating with the direct rival of the US national Global Positioning System.

Last week Mike D. Rogers, Republican Representative of Alabama, wrote a mailout to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, demanding their assessment of the Russian proposal on the question of national security.

Apart from the US and Russia, China and the EU are also developing satnav systems of their own, Baidu and Galileo respectively.

They don’t want to be reliant on the American system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology told the newspaper. “They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships.

Still, the White House so far has been opposing accusations of the US intelligence community against Russia as “It doesn't see them as a threat,” an unidentified administration official said.

The Obama administration is currently trying to mend Russian-American relations, damaged over Syria and asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed document-supported evidence of the US spying on unprecedented levels over global networks, including after their closest allies.

In October 2012 Vitaly Davydov, the former deputy of Russia’s Roskosmos space agency, revealed that Moscow needs to deploy eight monitor stations in the US for correct operation of the system in North America. He also disclosed that 19 monitor stations of American GPS positioning system were operable in Russia as of 2012.

On the contrary, in the latest report on the GLONASS in the US, the NYT claims that there are no GPS monitor stations in Russia whatsoever.


The development of the GLONASS global navigation system began in the Soviet Union, which put the very first satellite of the system into orbit on October 12, 1982. The system was officially commissioned on September 24, 1993.

Despite a number of faulty rocket launches with GLONASS satellites in recent years, today the GLONASS orbit group consists of 27 satellites, of which 24 ensure global navigation and the remaining three are either in reserve or perform experimental equipment tests.

Russia has been deploying augmentation system stations abroad for some time already. So far there are 14 monitor stations in Russia, one in Brazil and one on Antarctica's continent at Russia’s Bellingshausen station.

More GLONASS stations are expected to be built in the nearest future: eight in Russia, two in Brazil, one in Australia, Cuba, Indonesia, Spain, Vietnam and an additional station in the Antarctic.

It was confirmed earlier in November that starting from 2014 all mobile phones and portable handheld devices with navigation functions, either imported or produced in Russia, must be equipped with GLONASS, or GLONASS and GPS microchips. 

At the command post for GLONASS management in the Titov Main Space Testing Center (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov)

Today GLONASS is supported on products from world-leading handheld device producers, such as Samsung, Nokia, Apple, Motorola and others, simultaneously with GPS. This has become possible largely because leading producers of microchips, such as Qualcomm, have started producing GLONASS-enabled chipsets.

The introduction of a new positioning system has been welcomed by customers worldwide, because using both GLONASS and GPS systems increases the precision of positioning. European EGNOS project unites signals from both systems and gives precision positioning down to between 1.5 and 3 meters in Europe.

Within the next decade GLONASS is expected to replace existing satellites with new generation platforms that would enable 0.1 meter precision positioning anywhere in the world, except the polar regions of the planet.