So far, little is known about the possibilities and promising architecture of the created US missile defense. By offering further reductions in nuclear arsenals, the Americans themselves do not refuse to build new bastions of their own missile defense system. How dangerous is it for our country? What could be the development scenarios for this problem? We touched on these topics in a conversation with the military expert, Chief of the General Staff of the Strategic Missile Forces in 1994 – 1996, retired Colonel-General Viktor Esin.
"MIC": Viktor Ivanovich, from what, from your point of view, depends on the future appearance of the Strategic Missile Forces? Will it change?
- Historically, the appearance of the Strategic Missile Forces was formed under the influence of the main requirements for the shock group - its ability to ensure the delivery of an unacceptable for the aggressor nuclear missile strike. This requirement predetermined the two-component construction of a strike force, which includes two types of missile systems - mine and mobile. The former make the main contribution to the potential for a retaliatory strike, the latter jointly with the SSBN (a strategic missile submarine) constitute the potential for a retaliatory strike by the Russian strategic nuclear forces.
Today, the share of the Strategic Missile Forces in the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces is more than 60 percent on carriers, on nuclear warheads - two thirds. But the contribution of this type of troops to the implementation of the task of nuclear deterrence is determined not only by this. The strike force of the Strategic Missile Forces has the highest combat readiness, measured in units of minutes, the all-weather solution of the tasks assigned, and the stability of command and control. By these indicators, it surpasses other components of the SNF.
Repeatedly conducted simulations of various possible scenarios for the start of a nuclear war showed that a two-component construction of a strike force is the most optimal. Figuratively speaking, it ensures the “equal strength” of the group and its ability to adequately respond to nuclear aggression against Russia in any situation. Therefore, both in the foreseeable and in the long term, the appearance of the Strategic Missile Forces does not need to be changed. This is confirmed by the plans for the construction and development of this type of troops, which were discussed in May this year in Sochi and approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"MIC": How do you assess the dynamics of the rearmament of the Strategic Missile Forces to new missile systems?
- Currently, the ratio of missile systems of new and old types in the Strategic Missile Forces is 28 and 72 percent, respectively. Colonel-General Sergei Karakayev, commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, said that by the end of 2016, the share of new missile systems would double, and in 2021, the upgrade of the strike group would be almost complete (at least 98 percent).
It seems to me that it is possible to fulfill these plans only with an increase in the rate of entry of new missile systems into the combat personnel of the Strategic Missile Forces. This is provided for by the current State Armaments Program, but there are certain difficulties in its implementation. They are caused both by the admitted lagging behind in the reconstruction of the production base of enterprises producing rocket complexes and by the lack of capacity of construction organizations engaged in the re-equipment of combat and technical positions in missile formations.
Alone, the RVSN and the Russian Ministry of Defense are not able to solve these problems alone. This requires the coordinated work of all government agencies involved in the implementation of the state defense order.
"MIC": Over the past decade, strategic rocket engineers have experienced the third solid-propellant missile system. What is the reason?
- First of all, it should be noted that the Topol-M, Yars and the so-called modernized Yars missile systems belong to the same family of solid-fuel rocket complexes. They are essentially the product of a profound, phased modernization of the proven Topol missile system.
In this regard, Russia follows the world practice of rocket production. So, for example, the Americans subjected their similar Minuteman rocket system to multiple upgrades, switching from the Minuteman-2 to the Minuteman-3 ICBM, and then creating several versions of the same Minuteman-3, which differ mainly combat equipment. It is no secret that the Russian Topol-M and Yars ICBMs, in principle, also differ only in combat equipment.
The need to improve the created missile system is not a whim of the chief designer, but an objective given, due to several factors. These include such as the emerging need to increase the combat capabilities of the complex, including defeating specific targets, giving it new abilities in maneuverability and secrecy of actions, or in the reliability of overcoming missile defense systems. In particular, the latter factor largely determined the need to modernize the Yars missile system.
"MIC": The modernized missile system "Yars" differs from its predecessor?
- Without disclosing secrets, it can be argued that the modernized Yars missile system will have more advanced combat equipment and enhanced capabilities for overcoming the missile defense. In a mobile deployment variant, this rocket complex will acquire greater maneuverability and secrecy of action.
"MIC": How long will the missile complex with the "heavy" ICBM "Voevoda" last? Will Russia manage to prepare him a worthy replacement?
- The achieved service life of the missile system with the “Voevoda” ICBM is 25 years with a warranty period of operation 15 years. There is a really achievable opportunity to increase the achieved service life to 30 years. In the case of its implementation, the missile system will remain in the combat operations of the Strategic Missile Forces until 2022.
Now, a decision has been taken and is being implemented to create a new missile system (Sarmat experimental design work) to replace the missile complex with the Voevoda ICBM. It is planned to adopt it in 2018 year. After that, its deployment will begin in those missile formations that are currently armed with a missile complex with the “Voevoda” ICBM. If these plans can be implemented, “Voevod” will be prepared a worthy replacement.
"MIC": It is clear that liquid-fuel rockets may have a greater payload than solid propellant ones. However, is this the only reason why we so need “heavy” rockets?
“The high energy capabilities of the new liquid MBR as compared to solid-fuel ones make it possible to implement more diverse and effective ways of overcoming the global missile defense system created by the Americans. This is especially important if a decision is made in Washington to deploy a space train of impact weapons as part of the missile defense system.
However, as stated by the commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, Colonel-General Sergey Karakaev, the presence in the combat personnel of a powerful liquid ICBM will allow to realize such opportunities as the creation of a high-precision missile system with non-nuclear equipment and practically global range. This will be an adequate response of the United States if they do not abandon their program to create such missile systems.
"MIC": It seems that we first reduced our strategic nuclear potential, following the lead of the Americans, and now we are reviving it again by investing a lot of money. Is it so?
- This is not the essence of the problem. The fact is that at the end of the past and the beginning of this century, Russia was doomed to reduce its strategic nuclear forces, even if it refused to fulfill the START-1 Treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and the United States in 1991. During this period, most of the strategic carriers of the nuclear weapons, inherited from the collapsed Soviet Union of Russia, have developed their operational resources and were subject to withdrawal from service because of obsolescence. Many of them were an environmental threat. The landslide reduction of the Russian strategic nuclear forces was not compensated by the introduction of new carriers of nuclear weapons into the combat strength. Due to the collapse in the economy, Russia in the 90s was able to adopt a single, new, missile-based Topol-M missile system. All other programs for rearming the SNF have been frozen. And the Americans are not involved in this.
If we had not gone to the conclusion of this START Treaty, as some ultra-patriots suggested, the US superiority in strategic nuclear potential would at least be preserved, or even increase. So, the signing of the new START Treaty in Prague in April of 2010 turned out to be more beneficial for us than for the Americans. A paradoxical situation has now developed. To meet the February 2018 of the year in the limits of the New START Treaty, the Americans will have to reduce their strategic offensive forces, but we need to increase the number of deployed carriers to meet these limits.
"MIC": Should Russia, as in Soviet times, strive to achieve parity with the United States in the number of strategic carriers of nuclear weapons?
- It seems that this should not be done. The main thing for the Russian strategic nuclear forces is to have the potential that is capable of providing full-fledged nuclear deterrence, and this task is also solved when there is an imbalance with the United States in terms of the number of strategic carriers. In the end, targets, not carriers, defeat targets.
Yes, while the Americans will have a great return potential of strategic offensive forces. But this will not have a significant impact on the Russian nuclear deterrence potential, since none of the parties to the new START Treaty will be able to use the return potential while being within its framework.
"MIC": Viktor Ivanovich, what are the prospects in the dialogue on missile defense? Is the development of offensive weapons the only asymmetric response of Russia?
- I do not see prospects for achieving a mutually acceptable compromise on the missile defense issue. Russia insists that the United States provide it with legally binding guarantees on the non-directionality of the missile defense system they are setting up against the Russian strategic nuclear forces, which must contain clear and verifiable criteria confirming this non-directivity. The United States, having left 2002 from the indefinite ABM Treaty signed with us in 1972, does not want any restrictions imposed on the missile defense system they are creating.
In this situation, Russia has no choice but to qualitatively improve the potential of its strategic nuclear forces, giving them the ability to reliably overcome the global missile defense system created by the Americans. This is the least expensive, and most importantly, the most effective asymmetric response to the deployment of US missile defense.
This does not mean that Russia should not improve its aerospace defense. But since it is impossible to provide air defense and antimissile defense of the entire Russian territory, priorities should be determined. Our country has a completely creditworthy nuclear deterrence, which serves as a kind of insurance policy against direct military threats on a large scale. Hence, the task of the first stage is to provide reliable anti-aircraft and anti-missile cover for the combat forces of the Russian strategic nuclear forces, thereby increasing their combat stability.
The task of the second stage is to improve and build up air defense and antimissile defense groups of the Armed Forces, which are designed to act on possible theater of operations.
And thirdly, with the remaining resources available, efforts should be directed to the anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense of other major state objects: administrative-political and large industrial centers, vital infrastructure.
The proposed ranking in solving the problems of aerospace defense with the allowable expenditure of resources will create in Russia in the foreseeable future an air defense and missile defense system that, together with the potential for nuclear deterrence, will be able to prevent large-scale aggression.
"MIC": How dangerous is the US missile defense system for us?
- Fearing that before 2020, Americans will create a system capable of intercepting Russian ICBMs is not worth it. But this does not mean that Russia should ignore the missile defense issue. If the Americans had said that they would limit themselves to this and that, one would not have to worry. But they do not make any promises.
As an expert who has devoted this problem for more than one year, I believe that in the guise in which they create their missile defense system, for the 2020 – 2025 period it will not have the ability to significantly affect Russia's nuclear deterrence potential.
"MIC": Do not we find ourselves in the "grip" of missile defense?
- Large anti-missile potential is attached to American first-class surface ships - cruisers and destroyers equipped with the Aegis universal combat system with Standard-3M-type antimissiles of various modifications. Possessing such a mobile antimissile potential, the United States, under certain conditions, is able to deploy these ships in the seas adjacent to Russia. Our country may find itself in the “grip” of missile defense, which must be taken into account in military planning and provide for measures, the implementation of which would avoid it or break these “grip” in the event of a real military threat.
"MIC": What do you see as scenarios for the development of a missile defense problem?
- I would like to be mistaken, but I believe that in the foreseeable future the missile defense problem will escalate. I hope this will not lead to a new cold war, but, apparently, will result in another round of the arms race. Well, if the United States deployed missile anti-missile systems in space, the scale of the arms race will increase immeasurably. Moreover, this process will affect not only Russia and the United States, but also all the leading states, including China, India and Brazil.
"MIC": Is it possible now to make some kind of diagnosis of the US missile defense system in connection with the unsuccessful tests of an interceptor missile in early July?
- The fact that the missile defense system created by the Americans is imperfect is recognized not only by the US Congressmen, but also by the Missile Defense Agency. To intercept one combat unit, covered by a complex of means for overcoming missile defense, you need seven to eight anti-missile missiles, which are deployed in Alaska and in California. In addition, the Americans have not yet conducted a single test on the real interception of the combat unit of an intercontinental missile. They are limited to intercepting targets.
If we talk about the last test of the anti-missile GBI launched from the US Air Force "Vandenberg" in California in early July, it was aimed at checking the effectiveness of the improved interception stage. The primary version of this stage on the GBI was not what the Americans would like to see. Anti-missile finalized and tested, but unsuccessfully. As far as I know, there was a slip. Apparently, the conditions of the target situation were complicated. But there are many other problems, in particular, related to the fact that the interception level cannot distinguish false targets from a real combat unit. In general, according to a report by the General Reporting Office (US Chamber of Accounts), published in April 2012 of the year, only seven of the most important technical problems from 39 were solved by the developers of the American missile defense system. Ways to overcome more 15 problems have been identified, but no technical solution has yet been found for the remaining 17.
Taking into account the opinion of the developers of the American missile defense, I believe that the task of anti-missile defense of the US territory from a massive missile strike is hardly feasible. However, if the Americans deployed a shock space echelon of missile defense, the solution will be significantly simplified. But it will cause an arms race. Already in space.
"MIC": What will happen next?
- Predicting is easy. Initially, Americans will gain a certain advantage by deploying their shock systems in extraterrestrial space. Excellence will be short. Then Russia, China and other countries will follow their example. As a result, instead of improving the security of the United States, spending enormous resources will have the opposite effect - the risks of threats will increase. The idea of increasing the security of the United States from nuclear missile threats will result in global strategic destabilization.
I think that the United States will not go to this step. Yes, now the draft treaty introduced by Russia and China to ban the launch of any assault weapons into space is not discussed at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, because due to the obstructionist position of Pakistan on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons agree on the agenda for this conference. Nevertheless, many countries support such a treaty on space. Americans still do not say yes or no. They tend to support the proposed code of conduct in outer space by countries of the European Union, which does not have legal force. This, of course, does not suit most other countries. After all, there is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Placement of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Space. It must be supplemented by the fact that any impact weapons must not be placed in space.
For the sake of truth, I note that now the United States has drastically reduced the activity of research conducted in the field of creating space shock systems. However, for them it is a necessary measure dictated by the financial constraints that the US Department of Defense is experiencing.
"MIC": Will the new round of the arms race begin with the modernization of tactical nuclear weapons, which the Pentagon is embarking on?
- There is no need to speak about any new turn in the race of American tactical nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the Pentagon set a course for reducing the tactical nuclear arsenal, but not because of peacefulness, but because of the loss of its military significance by the American tactical nuclear weapons. In the American arsenal of armaments, it is superseded by high-precision conventional weapons, in which the United States surpasses all other countries of the world by an order of magnitude.
"MIC": Is it possible to predict any changes in the balance of power of the "nuclear club"?
- Changes are already happening. Russia and the United States, within the framework of bilateral agreements, limit and reduce their nuclear arsenals; the United Kingdom and France follow their example, but outside of any international agreements, while other nuclear states - China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the DPRK are increasing their nuclear arsenals. The current situation is of concern to the military-political leadership of Russia. Therefore, Moscow insists that the next round of negotiations on the limitation and reduction of nuclear weapons should become multilateral, with the maximum possible participation of the countries possessing nuclear weapons.