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Outside View: GLONASS gloom -- Part 1

By ANDREI KISLYAKOV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   March 4, 2008 at 10:59 AM
MOSCOW, March 4 (UPI) -- The development of Russia's high-tech sector, primarily the national space program, resembles a Camel Trophy race, while official reports do not always reflect the real situation.

In late February, Anatoly Perminov, director of the Federal Space Agency -- Roskosmos -- told the respected Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine he positively assessed the results of Russia's space exploration in 2007. He said that all projects had been financed in line with official programs.

According to Perminov, successful efforts were made to implement the federal space program until 2006-2015, to deploy the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System -- GLONASS -- and to expand the country's national space centers under federal target programs.

The following Russian joke highlights a tendency to divide any problem into many aspects. A duty officer told the regimental commander that everything, except one mere trifle, was all right. However, it later turned out that the unit banner was missing.

With the exception of two mere trifles, the 2007 Russian space program has yielded mostly positive results.

In late November, Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who oversees the space program and the high-tech sector, severely criticized the work of the Federal Space Agency. He said the Federal Space Agency had completed all Soviet-era projects and was no longer able to manufacture up-to-date and competitive products. On New Year's Eve, Ivanov told a meeting of the Federal Space Agency board that the agency had failed to fulfill the Global Navigation Satellite System program.

In mid-February, the Russian Audit Chamber's board assessed Federal Space Agency operations and said the Global Navigation Satellite System was unlikely to offer serious competition to the U.S. GPS Navstar system. The Audit Chamber also annulled the results of a 2006 tender for developing the new-generation Kliper spacecraft.

In effect, the Audit Chamber doubts the widely advertised commercial aspects of the Global Navigation Satellite System program.

The Federal Space Agency, the main Russian agency implementing this program, has repeatedly mentioned the impressive advantages of its brainchild, claiming that the Global Navigation Satellite System would be cheaper and more competitive than the GPS Navstar, would feature better receivers and provide more precise coordinates.

Perminov told a news conference on New Year's Eve that the market had shuddered when the first Russian-made Global Navigation Satellite System receivers were offered for sale. This is rather unusual because the GPS Navstar has been catering to hundreds of millions of users worldwide, including Russia, for several decades. Moreover, one multi-service Global Positioning System package costs only a few dollars and is quite a match for the 100-200 unwieldy GLONASS receivers that are inferior in every respect.

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Next: Where GLONASS fails

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(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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