A broad overview of Russia’s military capability in 2017 shows that the country’s reorganized and rearmed military is radically different from what it once was. The lessons have been learnt to make it much more efficient than the force that defended South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers from Georgia’s attack in 2008. The armed forces are going through the period of transformation with sophisticated cutting-edge high-precision weapons given high priority. Addressing the Defense Ministry Board, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new 2018-2027 State Armament Program puts special emphasis on equipping forces with high-precision air, land and sea weapons.
2017 was the year when the Russian military used sea-launched Kalibr, air-based Kh-101 and Iskander surface-to-surface missiles in Syria.
The December 2017 board meeting was the first time the use of Iskander in Syria was admitted publicly. In 2017, the system entered service with the 152nd Guards Brigade stationed in the Kaliningrad region as a response to NATO beefing up forces near Russia’s border.
Is Syria, Iskander was used to knock out high priority targets. Sufficient accuracy, range and reliability allow it to function as an alternative to air forces operating under the conditions enemy’s active countermeasures, including fighters and air defenses. The Iskander-M has a range of 500 km and achieves a circular error probable (CEP) of 5–7 meters. The ballistic missile travels at hypersonic speed of 2100–2600 m/s (Mach 6–7) at a height of 50 km and can be re-targeted during flight in case of engaging mobile targets. It needs only about 10 minutes to take position and fire.
The system’s range is enough to cover almost the entire territory of Syria. It can fire cruise missiles to hit stationary targets and ballistic missiles to knock out enemy’s high value assets on a battlefield. Iskander can strike long before an aircraft, which has to take off, overcome the distance and take position to launch its weapons.
In 2017, it was announced that the Iskanders will replace the aging Tochka-U ballistic missile systems by 2020 as part of an ongoing refurbishment and improvement scheme. Last year, Russian military started to form and train special operations units of spotters used to provide coordinates to guide the Iskander-launched missiles as they streak toward the target. In Syria, spotters operate in the enemy’s rear.
The Kh-101 stealth air-to-surface missile launched by Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers has become a battle-proven weapon in 2017 used to achieve an overwhelming level of “shock and awe” against the adversary in Syria. The experience shows it is very reliable.
The range is 5,000 km. Video evidence provided by drones confirms the fact that all the targets were hit directly. The missile was tested in 2015 and 2016 to be used as part of operational plans in 2017. In 2017, Kh-101 missiles destroyed the enemy’s infrastructure in Deir-ez-Zor. In July, the missiles destroyed three large arms and ammunition depots, and a terrorist command center near the city of Uqayribat in the province of Hama. The strike was delivered from the range of about 1,000 kilometers.
The Syrian experience is used to develop a new cruise air-to-surface missile. Russia’s Tactical Missiles Corporation is working on the “Article 715” or 9-А-2362. The missile is actually a smaller version of Kh-101 destined for the Tu-22М3 long-range bombers as well as the Su-34, Su-30, Su-35 and Su-57 tactical aircraft.
Sea-based Kalibr missiles have been used since 2015. Its range exceeds 1,500km – less than the range of the Kh-101. The strong point – the missile can be installed on almost of types of ships. The Russian sailors call it “calibration” – the ability to be adapted to various types of surface ships and submersibles.
In 2017, it was announced that the Kalibr missiles will be installed on the new Steregushchiy-class corvettes (project 20380). At present, the ships of this class are armed with Kh-35U anti-ship missiles.
The “calibration” process includes Leader, the new ice breaker, which is destined to break through ice up to 4.5 metres thick, and keep the Northern Sea Route and Arctic coast open all year round. This is very unusual – something nobody else has done. Leader is not a warship but it will carry special containers with weapon systems, including anti-ship Kh-35 and Kalibr anti-ship missiles. As one can see, the Kalibr allows to have well-armed fleet at relatively small cost capable of striking surface and land targets from various platforms at thousands of miles away.
3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic cruise missile was going through testing in 2017, so it could enter in production this year as planned. It is capable of speeds of around Mach 5.0-Mach 6.0 (7,400 kilometer per hour (4,600 mile per hour). At a cruising altitude of 30,000 m its kinetic energy at impact is 50 times higher than existing air-ship and ship-to-ship missiles. The projectile can travel covering 155 miles in 2.5 minutes, which is faster than a sniper's bullet. The enemy will not have enough time to get scared, let alone react. The missile is expected to enter into production this year.
2017 will be remembered by the Russian military as the year of making great strides towards arming the military with high tech long-range precision guided conventional weapons. This is a qualitative leap to make the Russian military second to none.