Air Defense: A Low Down Attack On Anti-Missile Missiles



November 6, 2008: Russia is shipping some SS-26 (9M723K1, or "Iskander") ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, as a way to threaten the new NATO anti-missile system being built in Poland (to protect Europe from Iranian missiles). This Russian deployment is all about a unique feature of Iskander, which is that it is not a traditional ballistic missile. That is, it does not fire straight up, leave the atmosphere, then come back down, following a ballistic trajectory. Instead, Iskander stays in the atmosphere and follows a rather flat trajectory. It is capable of evasive maneuvers and deploying decoys. This makes it more difficult for anti-missile systems to take it down. Russia is buying several dozen Iskanders for its own military. These versions have a longer range (400 kilometers) and more countermeasures (to interception). Russia will not provide details. Russia has admitted that it could use Iskander to destroy the U.S. anti-missile systems in a pre-emptive attack. Just in case Russia wanted to start World War III for some reason or another. This Iskander deployment is mainly a publicity stunt, unless you want to seriously consider the possibility that the Russians are trying to start a nuclear war.

Kaliningrad is the perfect place for Russia to start World War III. The city is the former German city of Konisgberg, which was captured at the end of World War II, and kept by Russia, as the boundaries of Eastern Europe were rearranged in the late 1940s. Until 1991, Kaliningrad was on the Soviet Union's western border. But when the Soviet Union dissolved that year, and more than half the Soviet Union split away to regain their independence as 14 new nations, Kaliningrad found itself nestled between Poland and the newly reestablished Lithuania. The small (200 square kilometers, 400,000 Russians, the Germans were expelled 60 years ago) city is still the headquarters of the Russian Baltic fleet and protected by a large force of troops and warplanes. The Iskander missiles will feel right at home.

The Iskander finally completed its development in the last few years. The 3.8 ton missile has a range of 280 kilometers, and a 900 pound warhead. Russia sells several different types of warheads, including cluster munitions, thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) and electro-magnetic pulse (anti-radar, and destructive to electronics in general.) There is also a nuclear warhead, which is not exported. Guidance is very accurate, using GPS, plus infrared homing for terminal guidance. The warhead will land within 30 feet of the aim point. Iskanders are carried in a 20 ton 8x8 truck, which also provides a launch platform. There is also a reload truck that carries two missiles.

Russia developed the solid fuel Iskander to replace its Cold War era SS-23 battlefield ballistic missiles (which in turn had replaced SCUD). The SS-23 had to be withdrawn from service and destroyed by 1991, because the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty prohibited missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,300 kilometers. When post Cold War financial problems slowed down development of Iskander, this left Russia dependent on the shorter range (120 kilometers) SS-21 system, along with some aging SCUDS, for battlefield ballistic missile support. Russia used some of these older missiles against Chechen rebels in the 1990s.

Article Archive

Air Defense: Current 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999