Written by Vladimir Kozin; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Alice Decker exclusively for SouthFront
Can Trump Lower the Heat?
According to the author of the article “The fourth element,” retired Colonel Pyotr Cherkashin, the US missile defense system in addition to the “traditional” nuclear triad of the US offensive strategic nuclear forces will be used exclusively for making strategic strikes on enemy targets. This article is eloquently subtitled, “The purpose of a missile defense system is pre-emptive strikes on countries that do not follow instructions from Washington.” The contents of this article only confirm the thesis, which may amount to a “fear factor” deriving from the implementation of the Americans’ “anti-missile plans.”
The issue of creating a global United States missile defense system remains one of the issues discussed in the foreign and domestic media, and in the expert community. On this issue we have heard pronouncements by journalists and politicians, experts and official representatives of the military-political leadership of various countries, and of course, the military — including the Russians, representatives of the U.S. army, and NATO states, especially those who have the means of intercepting ballistic missiles. Opinions on the American missile defense infrastructure vary quite widely: from declarations that such systems are completely useless to predictions that they could possibly nullify the potential of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
Pyotr Cherkashin’s material, with all due respect to the author, suffers from some inaccuracies and sometimes does not fit the facts that have been announced by senior U.S. military figures with respect to the ballistic and cruise missile intercept systems, those previously deployed and those currently being deployed, for instance during official Congressional hearings, including those held in 2016.
An analysis of the information circulated by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Office shows that, by the end of Obama’s term, the United States Missile Defense has seen significant and high-quality enhancement. As proclaimed by the phased adaptive approach, further implementation and use of the missile defense system is foreseen from now until the year 2022 and beyond.
US authorities annually allocate to the anti-missile program not four, as Pyotr Cherkashin says, but an average of seven to eight billion dollars. For example, the Pentagon has requested the following funds for the National Missile Defense (NMD) during Donald Trump’s first term as president, 2017–2020: for the 2017 fiscal year, $7.5 billion; for 2018, $7.4 billion; for 2019, $7.3 billion and for 2020, $7.4 billion. For comparison, during Barack Obama’s eight-year reign, the outlay for these purposes amounted to an average of $8.22 billion, including a maximum of $9 billion in the 2009 fiscal year.
The line of US anti-missile complexes includes stationary, heavy, ground-based “Ground-based Interceptor missiles (GBI),” with strategic importance placed on the continental United States; improved “Standard-3” marine- and ground-based missiles; “THAAD”-type mobile ground-based missiles, as well as the “Patriot PAC-3” anti-aircraft/air defense missile defense system.
Graduated or phased degrees of cover must be provided for military and civilian targets by the sequential firing of BR shock missiles. The “GID” systems have a range of several thousand kilometers and “Standard-3” and “THAAD” interceptor missiles — up to several hundred, while the “PAC-3” go up to tens of kilometers.
The contents of the shock components are quite impressive and will continue to grow. Thirty “GID” interceptors are deployed in silos in Alaska and California. Thirty-three US Navy warships were equipped “Standard-3” with interceptor missiles by the end of 2016. In May of 2016, the land-based “Aegis Ashore” system went into combat duty in Romania. Five batteries are armed with “THAAD”-type TMD complexes. The number of “Patriot PAK-3” has reached nearly a thousand units.
However, the US military establishment does not consider this part of the missile defense system adequate and final. In fiscal year2017, the arsenal of “GBI” interceptor missiles is to be increased to 44 units. A sixth battery is supposed to be equipped with a “THAAD” Complex. The “Aegis Ashore” in Poland is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2018.
All the American missiles are supposed to hit their targets with ballistic impact-kinetic energy (by direct hit, or fragments), which is confirmed by data from the numerous trials; a total of 91 trials have been held since 2001. Granted, the Pentagon statistics are rather optimistic: nearly 80 percent of intercepts were successful, and the “THAAD” Active tests which began in 2006 show almost 100% effectiveness in destroying ballistic missiles.
For all the forms of US combat missiles there are different programs for their ongoing functional improvement. But the Pentagon has not set a goal of equipping interceptor missiles with nuclear warheads. There are no plans to install missile launchers in the ground- and sea-based “Pershing” missile defense system (as Pyotr Cherkashin writes) which were destroyed under the INF Treaty of 1987.
The fact that all mention of exotic and almost impossible anti-missile technologies have disappeared from American claims about their National Missile Defense only underscores the shift of America’s military and political leadership away from propaganda techniques intended to draw Russia into a qualitatively new arms race, as was the case during the development of the SDI programs, to the implementation of real plans. Some experts believe that the US missile defense system is already able today to neutralize a limited missile threat from North Korea and Iran, which contradicts Pyotr Cherkashin’s assertion that “missile defense is useless.” Obviously, as the US continues improving its means of interception and increases the total number of facilities, the US missile defense capabilities will grow, which will result in an increasing threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear forces and even more so for China’s SNF.
So then, is the anti-missile defense put together by the US really a threat to us?
The arguments are pretty convincing, both from those who talk about the potential threat to Russia in connection with the US’s unchecked deployment of a global missile defense, and from those who believe that the potential of our strategic nuclear forces cannot be overcome by in the foreseeable future by any American or NATO-wide ballistic and cruise missile intercept system. Probably both are partly right. The contradiction is due to the fact that the threat from the American missile defense lies not only in its military capabilities but also the willingness and ability of Russia to respond adequately.
Here are some key arguments about the dangers of the American “missile shield”:
- In the next 10–15 years or sooner, the number of US interceptors will surpass Russia’s arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear launchers and the warheads installed on them, which means we will no longer have parity;
- American installations at our borders will enable them to shoot down Russian ICBMs and SLBMS upon launch, when an anti-ballistic missile could most likely destroy all the warheads on a strategic nuclear ballistic missile;
- All the major programs to modernize the fundamental devices of the US missile defense are designed to ensure the interception of ICBMs and their warheads, including those covered by decoys;
- It is technically possible to place, in the generic launchers, Standard-3 “CD” Tomahawks with non-nuclear warheads, which can be used as an element of the “prompt global strike” concept;
- In the long term, the American missile defense will be able to neutralize Russia’s nuclear missile response, after it has been preemptively minimized by the first, “disarming,” global strike.
This position is reflected in Russia’s new foreign policy concept, which took effect on November 30, 2016, and which states: “Russia considers the United States’ creation of a global missile defense system as a threat to its national security and reserves the right to respond appropriately.”
But also convincing are the calls not to dramatize the situation but to have faith in the Russian Armed Forces’ ability to effectively neutralize the US missile capability. In this connection most often we are reminded of the unique capabilities of Russia’s advanced missiles and the new generation of nuclear warheads capable of actively maneuvering to evade interceptors, and the use of decoys, which helps compensate for US efforts to build up its missile defense system capacities; of the vulnerability of their operational anti-missile systems onshore and offshore, those which are being positioned and those which have already been position near Russia’s borders, to our national long-distance strike weapons and electronic warfare; and the covert movement of our mobile systems and the strategic missile submarines of Russia’s strategic missile forces.
It seems reasonable to ask: Should we expect another round of the arms race? Apparently, Yes.
After the Americans’ withdrew from the ABM Treaty of 1972, Russia held consultations with the US on missile issues for almost 12 years, hoping to find mutually acceptable ways to maintain strategic stability without undermining the national security of either party. But this has not led to concrete results, through the fault of previous American administrations.
It is possible that the situation will change with the arrival of Donald Trump, who, while insisting on further developing a national missile defense system on a global scale, has often spoken of the feasibility of restoring Washington’s relations with Moscow.
It’s hardly likely that Russia and the US/NATO can create any kind of joint or “co-operative” anti-missile system. And, it’s not worth trying to do so. Russia and the United States did not and probably will not become allies or strategic partners, since they are pursuing opposing goals in the international arena. But both powers could very well agree on the maximum allowable “ceilings” for interceptor missiles in a certain proportion to the launchers and warheads, and about where such missiles are permitted to be deployed, that is, they could define zones that would be closed to the installation of sea- land and air based missiles near each other’s borders.
The elimination of US anti-missile bases in Romania and Poland would allow the Russian side to change its plans to deploy missiles along its borders and, consequently, turn down the “heat” and tension that have pervaded relations with both the US and the European states during in waning days of Obama. The proposals of American researchers who consider it possible to stop the construction of a US strategic missile defense complex in Poland, which was begun in May 2016, are not enough. The Pentagon should freeze the similar facility in Romania and return to its own territory all the interceptors that are already installed there.
Part of the threat created by the Obama administration could be removed by confidential cooperation between Russia and the United States on many political–military issues under the new boss of the White House, by Washington’s giving up of anti-Russian rhetoric and lowering the high levels of NATO military activity near our borders.
Also important would be a mutual Russian–American agreement not to use nuclear weapons as a first-strike tactic or not to deploy them at all. This could be supplemented by following through on the bilateral agreement between the two great powers to stop targeting their nuclear missiles at each other’s territory, which was agreed in the mid-1990s.
In his Address to the Federal Assembly on December 1, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a clear signal to the new American administration, stating his willingness to cooperate: “It is Important to normalize and develop bilateral relations on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. Cooperation between Russia and the United States in addressing global and regional issues is in the interests of the whole world. We share responsibility for ensuring international security and stability, and for strengthening non-proliferation regimens.”
Thus, “the Trump factor” that emerged during the US presidential elections of 2016 can play a role in relieving Russian concerns about the deployment of the American global missile defense system, that is, it could become, in a way, a response to “fear factor” cited by Pyotr Cherkashin.
In a monograph published in 2013, the year dedicated to the development of the US missile defense system, this writer suggested “to develop certain forms of practical cooperation” between Russia and China in the field of missile defense. Reference was made to the fact that the United States and its closest NATO allies as well as those not included in this alliance are actively developing a joint missile defense system. A positive countervailing factor is that in 2016 Moscow and Beijing held a joint exercise in this area for the first time, which, overall, was successful. Both sides intend to continue this practice in 2017.
It is important to stress that Russia is capable of reliably and very effectively ensuring the security of its own nations and its allies against all the variants of the US global missile defense system. Therefore, one can hardly find grounds for whipping up hysteria over the missile defense issue. But at the same time, it would be wrong to ignore the specifics of the American missile defense system and its main thrust, which, under Barack Obama, was aimed primarily against Russia and China, and secondarily against Iran and North Korea.
If it is not possible to come to an accord with the Trump administration on missile issues and a number of other issues directly affecting strategic stability, Russia will have to build up systems to counter the US/NATO missile defense system. That is, it will have to keep focusing on data and intelligence, command and control and combat tools to improve its strategic nuclear forces, and take action in the technical, military-political, and diplomatic spheres.
Chief Adviser to the Director of the RISS, Professor of the Academy of military Sciences of the Russian Federation, corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences.