The main military organization involved in the Energiya-Buran program was GUKOS (Chief Directorate of Space Assets), which during the early years of the program was subordinate to the Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN). RVSN had been set up as an independent branch of the armed forces in December 1959 to run the burgeoning strategic missile program, a task earlier performed by the Chief Artillery Directorate (GAU) under the Ministry of Defense. All this was in contrast to the situation in the United States, where missiles were the responsibility of the Air Force. RVSN also inherited the space-related functions of the GAU—namely, pre-launch processing, launch, tracking, and control of both civilian and military satellites. In 1964 RVSN further consolidated its control over space operations with the creation of TsUKOS (Central Directorate of Space Assets), a body that was directly subordinate to the RVSN Commander-in-Chief. In March 1970 TsUKOS was reorganized as GUKOS, which in turn separated from RVSN in November 1981 to become directly subordinate to Defense Minister Ustinov. In November 1986 it was reorganized as a separate branch of the armed forces under the name UNKS (Directorate of the Commander of Space Forces).
In August 1992, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it became known as VKS (Military Space Forces). In November 1997 VKS was reabsorbed by the Strategic Rocket Forces, only to be given back its independent status in June 2001 under the name KV (Space Troops).
GUKOS was appointed as the so-called “client” for the Energiya-Buran program on 30 July 1976. This meant that, formally at least, it was responsible for determining the specifications for the system. In this respect, it essentially assumed the same position as NASA in the United States, with the design bureaus and factories playing the role of “contractors”. In principle, however, most of the initiatives to develop new spacecraft or work out specifications came from the design bureaus themselves in a bottom-up management style characteristic of the Soviet space program. The relationship between “client” and “contractor” in the Soviet context was also different in that GUKOS did not directly control the purse strings of the Energiya-Buran program. Like most other space projects, the program had to be run with the annual funds allocated to the ministries of the military industrial complex from the state budget, which was a way of covering up actual defense expenditures. Aside from fulfilling its “client” function, GUKOS/UNKS was in charge of operating the launch facilities at the Baykonur cosmodrome and tracking stations across the Soviet Union.
GUKOS/UNKS commanders during the Buran years were Andrey G. Karas (1965-1979), Aleksandr A. Maksimov (1979-1989), and Vladimir L. Ivanov (19891996). Several bodies and posts were set up within GUKOS that were specifically related to the Energiya-Buran program. In December 1979 a special coordinating group overseeing work on the program was set up under the leadership of former cosmonaut Gherman Titov, a deputy head of GUKOS at the time. In 1984 Yevgeniy I. Panchenko was named deputy head of GUKOS specifically in charge of Energiya – Buran and “automated control systems”. In 1986 a new 4th Directorate in charge of Buran and “special space assets” was established under the leadership of Nikolay E. Dmitriyev. Military R&D work on the Energiya-Buran program was conducted by the Strategic Rocket Forces’ TsNII-50 research institute, which became directly subordinate to GUKOS in 1982. It was headed by Gennadiy P. Melnikov (19721983), Ivan V. Meshcheryakov (1983-1988), and Eduard V. Alekseyev (1988-1992).
Despite repeated attempts by the Air Force to loosen the Strategic Rocket Forces’ stranglehold on the space program, its space-related responsibilities remained largely limited to cosmonaut training. For the Buran project the Air Force trained its own team of test pilots based at the Chkalov State Red Banner Scientific Test Institute (GKNII) in Akhtubinsk.