The US has made its partner a target for Russian air strikes. According to Russian Interfax-AVN agency, the Russian Ministry of Defense has taken a decision to deploy a squadron of long-range, supersonic bombers Tu-22М3 with variable sweep wing to Crimea with the option of eventually sending an entire regiment to the peninsula in response to Eastern European NATO allies' reinforcement plans. An air force squadron normally consists of between 10 and 24 military aircraft, however it can include more. A regiment consists of several squadrons.
The Romanian-based site in Deveselu is to become operational by the end of this year to host land-based interceptors, namely Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor missiles Block 1 B. Romania's participation involves the deployment of terrestrial interceptors and a radar system to guide them. The target searching finding radar systems are to be hosted in other countries. The US and Romania signed a Ballistic Missile Defense agreement in 2011 enabling the US to build, maintain and operate a land-based base.
Moscow has many times warned Bucharest that the deployment will not go unanswered. The Russian Russia's state defence council said Poland and Romania have turned themselves into Russian targets in a potential conflict by stationing the elements of NATO missile defence systems on their territories. Yevgeny Lukyanov, Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council, announced that the countries where anti-missile defense systems are based will «automatically become our targets».
For the first time since the 1990s the bombers were temporarily deployed to Crimea in March during a large – scale exercise. Back then the war games involved up to 38,000 troops, 3,360 weapon systems and armor vehicles, 110 aircraft and 55 warships, auxiliary vessels and submarines. It was kind of the last warning. Poland was also warned as the aircraft deployed to the Kaliningrad region along with Iskander tactical surface-to-surface missiles.
The Tu-22M (also known as Backfire) is a long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber developed by Tupolev for the Soviet Air Force. The aircraft is currently in service with the Russian Air Force and Russian Naval Aviation. It has a length of 42.4m, maximum wing span of 34.2m, and a height of 11.05m. The empty weight and maximum takeoff weights of the aircraft are 53,500kg and 126,400kg respectively. The plane is provided with hard points to carry Kh-22 stand-off missiles, Kh-15 nuclear or Kh-15P anti-radar missiles and FAB-250 or FAB-1500 free fall bombs. The wing and fuselage pylons and internal weapons bay are provided with a capacity to carry 24,000kg of weapons payload. The aircraft is also armed with a double-barreled GSH-23 (23mm) gun in remotely controlled tail turret.
The numbers of aircraft to be deployed could be increased. The open sources report Russia possesses around 40 TU-22M3s with around a hundred of the aircraft in reserve. One squadron is enough to knock out a missile site.
This May the Russia’s envoy to the NATO alliance Alexander Grushko said that Moscow is not banned from deploying nuclear arms in Crimea. «Everything that we do in Crimea fully complies with all obligations of the Russian Federation under international treaties. We do not violate anything, there are no prohibitions on us deploying certain weapons systems», said Grushko.
On March 26, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow warns the countries intending to permit deployment of the US missile shield elements on their territories that Russia had all the necessary means to counter the threat, said Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Ministry. According to him, «Russia has been for years drawing attention to the fact that the missile defense architecture built by the United States with the involvement of its NATO allies may in perspective pose a threat to Russian strategic deterrence forces and eventually result in parity disruption, which in turn would require responsive measures aimed at the restoration of the strategic balance».
The Russian diplomat also said that NATO recently «blatantly suspended a dialogue on the missile defense issues in a move that does not yield improvements to the situation».
Russia viewed the deployment of the missile shield near its borders as a threat to its national security. The measures it has taken so far particularly included the construction of new air-defense radar systems and deployment of Iskander missiles in Russia’s Kaliningrad Region, which borders on Europe.
The Iskander (NATO: SS-26 Stone) is a mobile tactical ballistic missile system 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. 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 500 kg 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.
Thus 2015 is to become the year of deepening military confrontation to benefit no one. The US will no longer have a reason to build the missile defense shield in Europe, if Iran fulfills its obligations in accordance with the recently-signed nuclear program deal. This is the best way out of the situation. Previously NATO used to say that the system was installed to counter the threat coming from Iran. Now it has corrected its stance saying the missile defense to be a deterrent against any threats to Europe, not just one coming from one country.
US officials have repeatedly assured Russia that the deployment of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Poland and Romania is intended to target Iran and North Korea, not Russia.
Now in response to Russian concerns, the US State Department said that the deal with Iran does not eliminate the need for European BMD systems.
Washington believes that there is no link that between the Iran deal and missile defense in Europe, no matter it appears to contradict a speech made by Obama in Prague on April 5, 2009, in which he said that the U.S. would «go forward» with the missile defense system «as long as the threat from Iran persists», but that if the «Iranian threat» were eliminated, «the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed».
Alexander Grushko, meanwhile, said he was surprised at «how easily Washington was renouncing its earlier approaches.» According to Russian analysts, the U.S. statements show that its interceptor missiles in Europe are targeted not against Iran but against other countries, primarily Russia.
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The deal with Iran is a good chance to do away with the European elements of missile defense – a bone of contention between Russia and NATO. Doing away with this problem paves the way for changing the bilateral relationship for the better and keeping away from dangerous brinkmanship. It’s sad that the chance is being wasted and all the efforts of so many years to improve the relations will go down the drain.