Russia Faces New Missile Defense Threat

Russia Faces New Missile Defense Threat

It’s an open secret the locus of global military spending and global military power is shifting towards Asia. The US Asia’s pivot threatens to exacerbate the trend. Asian powers are beginning to transform post-Cold War economic growth into military might, producing more modern and capable military organizations. The bulk of new investment is in air and naval capabilities, a universal phenomenon. The purveyors of the most sophisticated defense technology start to come from the region. Japan, of course, remains constitutionally committed to 1% spending, but it is an enormous amount taking into account the sheer size of the Japanese economy. As a result new breakthrough technologies appear that are not limited by the region’s borders but have a global affect leading to a revolutionary turn in contemporary warfare. Japan is planning «to develop the drone, which will be equipped with an infrared sensor to seek out low-altitude missiles that could help detect a North Korean nuclear missile attack and to counter China’s military buildup», the Japanese defense ministry report said on November 4. According Yomiuri Shimbun, the ministry has demanded 3 billion yen ($372 million) over the next four years to develop the aircraft, which would come into operation in 2020. A portion of this amount is expected to be allocated in the draft budget to be decided this December. Taiwan and South Korea are already looking at the development with interest.

Being a US strategic ally and having a special agreement on missile defense technology cooperation, Japan’s will provide full access to whatever it comes up with to the United States. It means an advent of a new killing component for Russian intercontinental strategic ballistic missiles (ICBM) is to be expected pretty soon. Now the issue of US (and allies) – Russia divergence on the issue is becoming much more complicated than it has been until now…

New Weapon systems

In April this year North Korea launched what was claimed to be a ballistic missile. Japan’s ground radars and Aegis destroyers, backed by U.S. early-warning surveillance satellite, failed to track it. The anxiety was that the Japan based tracking capabilities were insufficient. The real reason was the object never went high enough to be detected. Still in Tokyo it brought to mind the issue of the ability to detect low-altitude objects as well as missile launches at their early phase. The Japanese government response was embarking on an expensive program to develop unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with ultrasensitive infrared sensors to track ballistic (and possibly cruise) missiles as well as other low-altitude objects. Not much is known as yet; actually short reports have appeared in media at the beginning of November 2012. According to mostly anonymous Japanese sources, a prototype of the UAV, which would be able to operate at an altitude of about 13,500 meters, will be unveiled by the next fiscal year and enter service in 2020. Let me note that’s exactly the time the NATO announced Phased Adaptive Approach envisages the Aegis full intercontinental capability to be achieved in practice. The thing of prime importance is that the system is to detect launches earlier than the existing ground-based radars are capable of. The new weapon system would give Japan an ability to intercept ballistic missiles at an earlier stage, or at least add to the series of points in the «kill chain» at which a ballistic missile can be shot down. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese drone will have enough endurance and be equipped with air-to-air missiles, such as, for instance, a modernized AIM-120 AMRAAM with a second-stage liquid propulsion system to operate as an air-launched missile interceptor and detecting the movement of low-altitude objects over waters near Japan. As pilots are not needed to operate the drones, the vehicles are expected to be able to patrol the skies for 22 hours continuously. The Japanese ministry plans to have a design for a prototype UAV ready by next fiscal year. Once completed, it will undergo strength and other tests. The UAVs will be able to track missiles after they are launched, something that is difficult for satellites. Even if a missile stalls after launch, the UAVs will be able to detect it. The ministry expects the UAVs to serve other purposes too. These include marine surveillance, such as monitoring the Chinese Navy's movements in the East China Sea, and information-gathering activities in areas contaminated with radioactive substances from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

One doesn’t have to be a military expert to know that targeting an object during its boost has a lot of advantages. The missile doesn’t maneuver and presents a very high infrared signature. It is slower going up than during the re-entry phase and that makes kinetic interception easier to achieve. That’s one of the reasons for Russia’s apprehensions over the NATO European missile defense. Besides, an airborne surveillance aircraft situated in the vicinity of the launch site would obviate the time and high-energy requirements of mid-course interceptors used on current ground or sea based interceptors. It makes interception cheaper and faster. A very important thing is that the system will destroy a ballistic missile during that phase means that its destruction will occur on enemy territory rather than anywhere else, for instance Japan’s or the US skies. 

The US has projects of its own. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has been testing «sensor pods» placed on unmanned aircraft like General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly has said that test-tracking of missile launches at a range of more than 600 miles (965 km) has been successful. The range of successful intercept options will be dependent on upgrading the small and lightweight missiles carried by UAVs, as significant air speeds are required to intercept ballistic missiles, especially at longer distances. The technological hurdles in identifying and tracking missile launches would be significantly reduced if «overhead» satellites are involved. A new concept is under consideration offering to kill theater ballistic missiles soon after launch when they are slow and bright targets. No doubt it just starts with theater range to achieve intercontinental capability. Moreover, missile designers are being encouraged to work on more powerful boosters and repackage them as missiles that are small and light enough to be carried internally. They have to be fast enough - at least 5 km. (3 mi.) per second, to engage heavy ballistic missiles during boost and ascent at ranges of 350 miles (or 563 kilometers) or more. That’s exactly the velocity to give it a partial ICBM kill capability. The greater the range, the faster and heavier the interceptor has to be. The experts say sensors can see a missile launch plume at a range of about 350 miles from 65,000 ft. (19800 meters) altitude. 

By the end of this October the US defense company Boeing conducted a first successful test of a drone called the Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) that can emit a powerful burst of microwaves and fry every piece of electronics in its path — from personal computers and cameras to high-tech hospital equipment and flight control computers. CHAMP approached its first target and fired a burst of High Power Microwaves at a two story building built on the test range. Inside rows of personal computers and electrical systems were turned on to gauge the effects of the powerful radio waves. CHAMP had successfully knocked out the computer and electrical systems in the target building. Even the television cameras set up to record the test were knocked off line without collateral damage. «This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare», said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works. «In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy's electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive». These drones are being touted as non-lethal weapons, aimed at taking out an enemy's «electrical systems», like say targeting systems or maybe their intelligence databases. He never said the test showed the capability to knock off ICBM sites command and control systems. Getting unnoticed to the intercontinental missile site and bring out of order it control system is a dream of military planners. Besides the missiles, closing databases of information could lead to many more deaths in the long term in case it destroys a water management system or a computer-controlled dam. 

The killing of a ballistic missile scored during its launch phase is almost a tall order given its location in enemy territory; it’s all the more formidable in case enemy’s airspace is covered by strong defense systems. However, low-signature unmanned aerial vehicles can penetrate enemy territory undetected and to hover longer near a launch site than conventional aircraft, greatly increasing the chances of intercept. 

Russia

Right after the US elections outcome became known President Putin sent Mr. Obama congratulations expressing the hope that the bilateral relations would improve and inviting the newly - elected President to visit Russia next year. As is widely known the controversy over the planned missile shield has strained the relations between the U.S. and Russia. Moscow has rejected Washington's assurances that the shield is intended to fend off potential missile threats from Iran and voiced concerns that the system could threaten Russia's nuclear deterrent. In March, Obama, unaware that he was speaking on an open microphone, told Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia's president, that he would have more flexibility on the issue after the November election. On November 8, right after the Mr. Obama’s re-election, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin appeared to be trying to remind Obama of his promise an international conference in Moscow. He said that Moscow hoped the U.S. president would listen to Russia's concerns about the U.S.- led NATO missile defense for Europe. Talking to RIA-Novosti on November 12, he said, «Russia will «react in the sharpest manner» to any US ships equipped with the Aegis combat system attempting to sail by its shores». As to Rogozin, the US missile defense is destabilizing the Russia - US relations right now. Commenting on the Obama’s victory, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was still keen to work with NATO countries if circumstances allowed, however, it would continue pushing for firm guarantees from Washington. Russia-US arms reduction talks would not go on until the two sides solve the thorny issue of missile defense. The issue includes components of the US-led missile defense shield in Europe and other parts, Ryabkov added. Russia expected legally binding guarantees that the missile defense system was not directed at Russia, and could not accept verbal assurance as an alternative. Moscow's plan to reduce nuclear stockpiles depends on all relevant factors affecting its «strategic stability», including some Western partners' plans to deploy the missile defense program in Europe, he said. 

It remains to be seen how the technology created by the US, Japan and other American allies participating in the missile shield project will affect the process. But there is no doubt the implementation of new killing elements into the missile defense will hardly improve the bilateral relations and will, no doubt, provoke retaliatory measures on the part of Russia. 

Foto: valdaiclub.com

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