Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russia's reprisal options

There was no need to wait long until we get some “options” how Russia might react to the conclusion of the US-Polish agreement. RIA Novosti came up with an article by Yury Zaitsev, who is an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences. He writes that:

Russian missile defense systems will not be able to distinguish missile interceptors launched from Polish territory from ballistic missiles. Any launch of an interceptor will automatically result in retaliation, and not only at the interceptor deployment site.
This direct threat to Poland has to be seen in the light that Russia mentioned earlier that it could direct its missiles toward Poland in case it should decide to host the interceptor base.
Russia does not want to be dragged into another arms race, but it should not ignore the emerging threats. Its most obvious reply to the U.S. missile defense deployment would be equipping its Topol-M missiles with supersonic maneuverable warheads, using jammers, and reducing the boost phase of Russian missiles. It is also important to equip the armed forces with new MIRVed missiles.
Both ideas are not new. For some background information on the maneuverable warhead check the Missilethreat website. Russia is already working on MIRVed versions of the Topol-M, which are labeled RS-24. It is expected to complete the RS-24 flight tests program with the two launches scheduled for this year and, if the tests are successful, begin deployment of RS-24 in 2009.
Russia could also revive its program to develop global missiles, which could be put into near-Earth orbits and directed at enemy territory while bypassing missile defenses.
This is also a revamped idea: in the 1960’s the Soviet Union came up with the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS). After launch an ICBM would go into a low Earth orbit and would then de-orbit for an attack. The clear military benefits of this program were that the missile had no range limit and the orbital flight path would not reveal the target location. While the FOBS program did not constitute a breach of the Outer Space Treaty, the program was phased out in January 1983 in compliance with the SALT II agreement, which explicitly banned fractional orbital missiles. However, the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II in 1986 after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact. Therefore there are currently no international obligations that ban Russian from reanimating FOBS.
[Russia] could also deploy Iskanders, with a range of up to 500 km, there. Initially any missiles in Kaliningrad would be strictly non-nuclear, but they could be equipped with nuclear warheads when Poland hosts the interceptors.
The frequent readers of my blog know that this idea is around for a while. Considerations exist to not only deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad but also in Belarus. Back in November 2007 Minsk has announced that the missile brigade, which will be equipped with Iskanders, will be deployed in the Mogilev Region, which is near the Russian border. This would mean that the US-interceptor-base at Redizikowo Pomorskie would be out of range, namely roughly 860km away which significantly exceeds the range of 280km of the Iskander-E (export) version. Only an updated version of the Iskander could put the interceptor base into reach but this would at the same time constitute a breach of Russia’s MTCR obligations. Back in May 2007 Sergej Ivanov said in an interview after an R-500 missile test that Russia will definitely not infringe its international MTCR obligations but the extension of the Iskander missiles’ range for Russia’s own purposes is a different issue.

Yury Zaitsev came up with another recommendation for Moscow how to formulate the sought “adequate response”:
[…] reducing the number of strategic offensive arms enhances the role of missile defense systems [and] therefore, Russia should keep an adequate nuclear deterrent in the next few decades, which must become one of the most important military and political tasks.
This is no surprise either. The importance of the Russian nuclear forces was stressed quite often in the recent time. The START I treaty will expire on 5 December 2009 and the SORT-of Moscow Treaty only regulates the number of warheads deployed by 31 December 2012. This is also the day on which the treaty loses all force. From that day on Russia will not be obliged to limit its nuclear arsenal in the future unless any follow-up agreements will be concluded. However, the technical and financial means for a major nuclear weapon expansion are not given. As examples serve the slow pace of the deployment of Topol-M missiles and the numerous failed tests of the Bulava missile. One option, of course, would be MIRVing existing missiles, as already mentioned above.

These are of course all worst-case options but as things are now there is no reason to be overly optimistic that Russia and the United States will find a negotiated solution any time soon. Probably a severe plunge in the oil-price would help but this is equally unlikely to happen soon.

UPDATE: Now we could hear the first nuclear threats in the direction of Poland. General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a staunch supporter of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, pointed out that Russian doctrine permitted the use of nuclear weapons 'against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them.'

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