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NATO Should Be Very Worried About The Iskander-M

January 4, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

Russia’s defense ministry announced this week Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles are being transferred to the Western Military District, the same region sharing a land border with the vulnerable Baltic states. The Iskander-M or SS-26 is a road mobile conventional missile launcher for targeting enemy command and control infrastructure and was meant to replace the aging SS-23 SRBMs deployed with the army. Each Iskander-M vehicle carries two missiles whose range is kept at less than 500 kilometers by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

But the arrival of another Iskander-M regiment in the Western Military District is a worrisome indicator for Moscow’s eagerness to leave the INF Treaty.

The Iskander-M is unique to Russia’s armed forces and is restricted for export. Countries that do acquire Iskander missiles pay for a model with half the official range. NATO member states should be concerned about the Iskander-M since its launch vehicle is able to deploy the mysterious 9M729 cruise missile that was tested at the recent Vostok-2018 exercises. Another concern is the glaring absence of a regional anti-ballistic missile shield for protecting either the Baltics, Germany, or Poland.

Here’s the statement from the defense ministry regarding the Iskander-M transfer this month:

Rearmament of the missile formations of the Land Forces of the Russian Armed Forces to the Iskander-M operational-tactical missile system will be completed in 2019. As part of the state defence order, the manufacturer will transfer the Iskander-M systems to the missile brigade of the Western Military District.

The brigade set is made up of more than 50 units of equipment, including launchers, transporting-charging machines, command post vehicles, maintenance vehicles, as well as life-support vehicles. The Iskander-M missile system is capable of engaging targets at a range of up to 500km. There are two types of missiles: ballistic and cruising.
The complex is designed to eliminate enemy missile launchers, anti-missile and air defence systems, airplanes and helicopters at airfields, command posts and infrastructure.

Nowadays, the Iskander-M is the best missile system in its class, which is able to overwhelm any missile defence.

Currently, enterprises of the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation to modernise the complex, in order to improve its combat and operational characteristics.

The defense ministry’s terse wording may have been light on details but the admission of how “enterprises of the military-industrial complex” are trying “to improve its [Iskander-M] combat and operational characteristics” is a clear jab at NATO and the US military. By further enhancing the Iskander-M’s accuracy and speed, Russia signals its willingness to arms race against its historical adversaries no matter the consequences. If this violates the INF Treaty, it’s not a problem since Putin spent much of the previous year boasting about the supersonic and hypersonic missiles that his government is bankrolling.

In the broader context of ballistic missile proliferation across Eurasia, NATO member states are at a disadvantage as even non-members are able to develop their own missile technology without interruption (Belarus and Ukraine come to mind) while illiberal regimes with territorial ambitions can afford buying the same from willing suppliers. As a consequence of Asia’s longstanding geopolitical risks, cutting-edge missile technology is now flourishing from Tokyo to Ankara and everywhere in-between.

As for the Russian Federation, the likelihood of Iskander-M’s acquiring greater range–or being used as carriers for other weapons–is unmistakable proof its rearmament is now seeking to intimidate and then overwhelm lesser European countries until these accept Moscow’s dominion. The absence of a networked ballistic missile shield over the EU helps a lot too.

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