Iskanders near Kaliningrad have become a serious problem for NATO
On March 30, 2021, the American magazine The National Interest published an article titled "Why Russia’s Kaliningrad Naval Base Poses a Deadly Dilemma for NATO" and subtitled "The region is quickly becoming an armed fortress full of more and better equipped military forces."
Special attention in the publication is paid to long-range missiles. First of all, American analysts have identified the “Iskander-M” operational and tactical missile system:
"Kaliningrad hosts the 152nd Guard Missile Brigade, which musters a dozen two-shot ‘Iskander-M’ ballistic missiles systems. Counting reloads, the brigade can unleash two volleys of 24 hypersonic ballistic missiles that will land on average within six meters of a designated target up to 310 miles away—such as northern Berlin.”
The publication also says that the Russian tactical nuclear weapons stored in Kaliningrad are most likely intended for use with “Iskander” missiles, which can carry a nuclear warhead with a capacity of up to 50 kilotons in TNT equivalent, as well as a conventional warhead.
Such close attention of the Americans to the Russian tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is not a coincidence. It is with the help of TNW that Russia compensates for the superiority of NATO countries in general-purpose forces. For our country, tactical nuclear weapons are the most important means of regional deterrence. These weapons can be used to directly repel armed aggression and at the same time without any catastrophic consequences.
An important point: all of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons are located on its own territory. Given the distance between the United States and the Russian Federation, it does not threaten the United States in any way.
Russia's tactical nuclear weapons are dangerous to the United States only on one condition: if the United States attempts to establish control over Russian territory. At the same time, Washington itself deployed in Europe about 200 tactical nuclear warheads in the form of B61 free-fall bombs of various modifications.
Let's focus on the combat potential of the “Iskander-M” in more detail. The article in The National Interest magazine describes equipping the 152nd Guards Missile Brigade with 12 launchers of this system. However, according to information that appeared in the public domain at the end of December 2019, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation decided to increase the number of divisions in such a missile brigade from three to four.
Thus, instead of 12 launchers, there will potentially be 16 “Iskander-M” launchers. Accordingly, the salvo will not have 24 missiles, but 32, which, according to experts, is enough to destroy an entire division of a likely enemy.
In the arsenal of “Iskander" are aero-ballistic (when launched, they do not leave the Earth's atmosphere) and cruise missiles. According to open information, the system carrying two aero-ballistic missiles is marked "Iskander-M", and the complex equipped with two cruise missiles is marked "Iskander-K". It should be noted that there were also photos in the media where both an aero-ballistic missile and a cruise missile are placed in one launcher.
Both types of missiles officially have a range of up to 500 kilometres, since this missile system was adopted by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in 2006, i.e. during the Treaty between the Russian Federation (USSR) and the United States on the Elimination of Intermediate-range and Shorter-range Missiles (INF). The INF Treaty ended on August 2, 2019, at the initiative of the United States. At the same time, Russia said it would not deploy medium-and shorter-range ground-based missiles first, but only in response to the actions of the United States and its allies.
For reference, according to the classification of the INF Treaty, shorter-range missiles include missiles with a range of 500 to 1000 kilometres, and medium-range missiles-with a range of 1000 to 5500 kilometres.
The presence of two types of missiles makes the “Iskander” missile system extremely effective. For example, a cruise missile enters the target at an altitude of 6-7 meters, skirting the folds of the terrain and merging with the surface. Its accuracy allows to enter a window. An aero-ballistic missile flies most of the way at an altitude of 50 kilometres at a speed that is inaccessible to interception by either modern or promising missile defence means, and it is useless to influence it with electronic warfare.
There is also the option of hitting a single target simultaneously with an aero-ballistic missile and a cruise missile. The probability of defeat in this case is guaranteed to be 100%.
The head of the missile troops and artillery of the Russian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky, said in November 2020:
"The ‘Iskander-M’ operational and tactical missile system is a unique system that has no analogues in the world. It is capable of using both aero-ballistic and cruise missiles. At the same time, the modernisation potential of the system is less than half realised. The ‘Iskander-M’ will meet modern requirements for quite a long time and will remain the main one in the missile forces and artillery at least until 2030."
If to talk about the potential threat of the deployment of US medium-and shorter-range ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe, then Russia will easily respond to it symmetrically with the help of the same “Iskander” complex. To do this, it is enough to equip it with missiles with a range of more than 500 kilometres.
The “Iskander” aero-ballistic missile is the basis for the “Kinzhal” hypersonic air-launched missile system with a range of up to 2000 kilometres. Therefore, a number of technical solutions implemented on "Kinzhal" can be used to increase its flight range. Of course, we are not talking about 2,000 kilometres, because for the "Kinzhal" the air launch and horizontal acceleration of the missile is given by the carrier aircraft, but it is quite possible to increase the range by 1.5-2 times, i.e. up to 750-1000 kilometres.
With the “Iskander” cruise missile, the situation is even simpler. The resource of the cruise missile engine, as a rule, is several times greater than its officially specified range. Therefore, to increase the range of a cruise missile, it is sufficient to reduce the weight of its warhead and thereby increase the weight of the fuel for the rocket's liquid engine.
In addition, Russia has an excellent strategic air-to-surface cruise missile, the Kh-101 (Kh-102 with a nuclear warhead), which has a range of more than 5,500 kilometres. Therefore, it can be "grounded", i.e. deployed in the ground-based version on the “Iskander” missile system launcher.
Thus, the Russian “Iskander” missile systems will remain a serious problem for NATO for decades and a reliable guarantee of Russia's sovereignty.