Hidden in Plain SightRussian air defense missile system

The U.S. system is not being designed against a sophisticated missile threat, such as that posed by Russia, while the Russian system is clearly designed to defend against the United States.

Despite its incessant propaganda against U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts, Russia is building a unified “aerospace defense” system aimed at intercepting U.S. ballistic missiles.

Russia is now pressing for a legally binding commitment by the U.S. that would limit our missiles defenses. Furthermore, Russia is demanding a veto on U.S. deployment decisions. Indeed, as General Nikolai Makarov stated, “The main condition for joint work [in the area of missile defense] should be the permanent participation of Russian experts in drafting the European missile defense architecture.”

Moreover, Russia’s effort to build an aerospace defense system began far before the 2002 U.S. decision to deploy very limited missile defenses. As Colonel-General Boris Cheltsov of the Academy of Military Sciences, Aerospace Defense Department Chief, revealed: “Back in 1994, the first Russian Federation’s Aerospace Defense project came about. In 2006, the Russian president [Putin] has approved the Conception for the Creation of the Aerospace Defense System.”

As a result of the 2006 decision, according to Colonel-General Cheltsov, and after President Putin approved the Russian Federation Aerospace Defense Construction Blueprint 6, work began to be conducted on the development of a real-time data transmission system, on active antenna arrays and on fundamentally new detection, reconnaissance and weapon systems, including systems based upon “new physical principles.”

In February 2007, then-Russian Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel-General Vladimir Mikhailov declared that Russian missile defense was “no less effective” than U.S. missile defense. By December 2011, Russia formally created a new branch of service in the Russian military, the Aerospace Defense Command. It integrated the space troops (which run Russia’s missile detection capability) with the missile defense and air defense forces. Lieutenant-General Oleg Ostapenko, the Aerospace Defense Troops commander, lists one of main functions of the Aerospace Defense forces as: “Destroying ICBM and SLBM warheads and destroying or functionally suppressing enemy military spacecraft.”

Russia’s then-Chief of the General Staff, General Makarov, announced that in 2011 Russia would take the first steps toward the deployment of an “impenetrable” missile defense by 2020. This is an exaggeration, but Russia plans thousands of S-400 and S-500 missile defense systems by 2020. The S-400 is designed to defend against medium range missiles, while the S-500 is being designed against ICBMs, SLBMs and hypersonic missiles. In 2011, the Deputy Commander of the Russian Surface-to-Air Missiles, Major-General Sergey Popov, said, “The task of destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles will [be] set for the Russian air force starting from 2015.” At the time of this statement, this was the reported date of initial operating capability (IOC) for the S-500.

Both the S-400 and 500 are also capable of intercepting bombers and cruise missiles, and Russian air defenses are also being upgraded with advanced aircraft and anti-stealth low frequency radars.

Unlike the existing Moscow ABM system, which is being upgraded with the A-235 system (apparently an improved SH-8 high acceleration interceptor), the Russian S-500 system is mobile and designed to intercept ICBM velocity targets (7 km per second). This system can be redeployed to defend a threatened area. The S-500 system is also linked in the Russian media with the development of new mobile radar which will soon become part of the country’s aerospace defenses. In November 2011, General Makarov said that the S-500 system would defend all of Russia from aerospace attack. It is clear that Russian missile defense deployments are aimed at defending against the U.S. — not rogue states. Russia apparently still views the U.S. as its main enemy.

Russian missile defense efforts are not limited to land-based systems. In September 2011, Vladimir Kozin, a Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, said that Russia was planning to develop its own sea-based missile defense system. This is reported to be a naval version of the S-500. Igor Ashurbeili, the former chief designer of the Almaz-Antey Corporation which develops Russia’s air and missile defense systems, has said the successor to the S-500 missile defense will be air-based.

In 2011, then-Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin, stated that Russia will build its national missile defense system “irrespective of what its Western partners will be doing in this field.” At the same time, according to then-Deputy Prime Minister (now Kremlin Chief of Staff), Sergei Ivanov, Russia demanded “red-button” (i.e., launch authority) rights to U.S. missile defense launches at incoming weapons. Ambassador Rogozin also said, “Giving anyone access to this [Russia’s] virtual red button, so much discussed by some media, is something that can never happen. It is impossible….We will not put our system of strategic nuclear forces and system of aerospace defense under anyone else’s control. They will always remain under Russian sovereign national control.” In 2012, now Deputy-Prime Minister Rogozin reiterated: “Russia will form its own aerospace defence system irrespective the peace of the talks with the United States.”

Implications of Russian Missile Defenses

Russia could have a capability to intercept a substantially larger number of U.S. warheads than the U.S. missile defense system could intercept against from a Russian attack.

The simple reason is that the U.S. system is not being designed against a sophisticated missile threat, such as that posed by Russia, while the Russian system is clearly designed to defend against the United States, despite inferior Russian technology.

In May 2012, a self-styled Global ZERO “Commission” of an “international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons,” chaired by recently retired Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, called for a drastic reduction in the number of U.S. nuclear forces and the elimination of the nuclear Triad. The warhead numbers recommended in the Global ZERO report are similar to those found in press reports concerning the Obama administration’s not yet released “mini-Nuclear Posture Review.” Four well-known Russian moderates, Sergey Rogov, Colonel-General (ret.) Viktor Ivanovich Yesin, Major-General (ret.) Pavel Zolotarev and Vice-Admiral (ret.) Valentin Kuznetsov concluded that the “Global Zero” force “clearly is insufficient for destroying all strategic targets on Russian territory,” and, “If the Russian program for creating an aerospace defense is implemented, the number of targets to be destroyed in Russia will be reduced to approximately 10%.”

Countering Russian missile defenses could be relatively simple and inexpensive, but there is no indication that the Obama administration will do so. It is ignoring this development and the increase in Russian offensive nuclear capability announced after the December 2010 Senate approval of the New START Treaty, because of its pursuit of U.S. nuclear weapons reductions as an end in itself. U.S. plans for strategic missile defense capabilities have been scaled back both in the number of interceptors, their technical capability and their sensor support. Moreover, the planned increase in deployable theater missile defenses has been curtailed. We risk an inadequate nuclear deterrent and needless vulnerability to even a missile attack from a rogue state.

 Gatestone Institute