Russia has moved nuclear-capable Iskander missiles closer to Europe's borders in response to the US-led deployment of a missile defence shield.German mass-circulation Bild newspaper first reported on December 14 that Russia had deployed about 10 Iskander systems in its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed media reports on the deployment of short-range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region saying that it does not violate international agreements. “Rocket and artillery units of the Western Military District are really armed with Iskander tactical missile systems,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, head of the Defense Ministry’s press service, told reporters on December 16. “The concrete areas of the deployment of Iskander missile battalions in the Western Military District do not contradict any international agreements or treaties,” he added. Russian Izvestia daily reported the missiles have been in place "for some time." Another unnamed military source said they were deployed about 18 months ago. (1)
Iskander – cutting edge defensive weapon
The Iskander (NATO: SS-26 Stone) is a type of weapon that could influence the military and political balance of forces in certain regions of the world. It is a mobile tactical ballistic missile system being manufactured by the Federal State Unitary Enterprise, Design Bureau of Machine Building, for the Russian army), the first test was fired in 1996 to enter the ground forces inventory in 2006. It is capable of engaging ground targets such as command and communications infrastructure, concentrations of troops, air defense facilities and fixed and rotary-wing aircraft landed on airstrips. The Russian Defence Ministry plans to buy up to 120 Iskander-M tactical missile systems to equip at least five missile brigades by 2016.
Iskander is produced in three versions. Iskander-E is offered for export, inertially guided it has a maximum range of 280 km (the minimum firing range of the missile is 50km) with circular error probability of 30 to 70 meters. Belarus, Iran and Libya have expressed interest in procuring the missiles. Iskander-M is an extended range missile for the Russian Army. The range exceeds 400 km, enhanced accuracy is provided by inertial and optical guidance systems. Satellites, aircraft or cavalry on spot could be used for detection, identification and guidance. Having received the images of the target, the onboard computer locks on and directs the warhead towards the objective at supersonic speed. The system is equipped with two independently targeted short-range ballistic missiles capable of re-targeting during flight to engage moving targets. A missile can hit the target with a 500kg high-explosive fragmentation, submunition, penetration, fuel-air explosive and electro-magnetic pulse conventional warhead. Iskander provides the capability to overcome enemy missile defenses with high degree of immunity to electronic countermeasures. Iskander-K is the latest enhanced version to launch the R-500 cruise missile.
NATO rushes to voice concern
The United States, Poland and three Baltic states have all voiced anxiety. The Estonian and Lithuanian defense ministers both called the news "alarming," describing it as "cause for concern". Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said on Monday that such a move would change the "balance of powers in our region" and "threatens several Baltic cities." The United States joined the allies. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said "We've urged Russia to take no steps to destabilize the region." Poland will consult with its NATO partners on the issue before the eventual response. The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw said in a statement on December 16. "The plans to deploy new Iskander-M rockets in Kaliningrad are worrying," It said it had received no official information from Russia on the deployment, and was checking the media reports. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said on December 17 that he was concerned by the report. "This is something that we need to understand and get the real facts on," he told a group of reporters in Berlin. The General suggested that the disclosure showed the need for a more regular and reliable communications channel between NATO and Russian military commanders. "Our ships in the Eastern Mediterranean are very close to each other … Our aircraft every day are encountering each other in the North Sea and along the Baltics and other places. There can be no room for miscalculation," he said. "We as military men and women in the leadership of this alliance … we have to have a medium of trusted, constant, reliable communication," Breedlove added. Asked if such a channel existed, he replied: "I would not grade it as being where we need it to be yet but we are working at it very hard." NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said when asked about the reports: "The movement of missiles or aircraft to areas where intentions are difficult to understand is counter-productive to the kind of partnership NATO seeks with Russia and to the goals we have agreed for the enhancement of security in the region." She said NATO wanted to be more transparent in its dealings with Russia and had made repeated efforts to engage with Moscow in this area, including through invitations to observe exercises and to cooperate on missile defence. "Regrettably, Russia has yet to take up these offers," Lungescu complained.
Some thoughts to share
In this regard I believe it is expedient to recall that the US has 180 В61 airborne nuclear munitions deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey to be delivered by F-15E и F-16 combat planes (Russia has no nuclear weapons outside its territory). The nuclear-capable aircraft are part of the inventory of non-nuclear states like Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands. German and Italian Tornados also have the capability to deliver nuclear В61. The Siauliai-based (Lithuania) nuclear capable planes patrol in rotation the skies near the Russian border. They could reach Smolensk in 15-20 minutes, for instance. It would be total irresponsibility on the part of Russia not to take appropriate measures… The Kaliningrad region is home to Voronezh-DM radar station monitoring the airspace over Atlantic. The Atlantic Ocean is patrolled by US, UK and French strategic submarines with intercontinental missiles designed to strike Russia. The US-NATO missile defense system being deployed in Europe is a potential threat to at least half of Russia’s silo-based strategic nuclear arsenal. SM-3B1 missiles have just been deployed in Romania; the Strategic Culture Foundation highlighted the event in detail (2). Poland, the country situated in the vicinity of the Kaliningrad region, is next to become home to an even more enhanced version of the missile system. In 2009 Russia told the US it would not deploy Iskander if the US cancelled the so-called third position area of the missile-defense shield in this country. It did not. Now the US plans to station Aegis – capable destroyers in Spain. According to plans, USS Ross and USS Donald Cook are to make the port of Rota their home base in 2014 followed by USS Carney and Porter in 2015. The missile defense capable ships will patrol the eastern Mediterranean.