Nuclear Friday: Putin’s Valentine

There were a few major news items around Valentine’s Day last week. I had never intended The Board to be about current events, but after a week’s thought I have decided I need to say something. Russian planes flew dangerously close to US ships in the Black Sea. A Russian spy ship took a coastal tour from Virginia to Connecticut. And most importantly, the New York Times announced that Russia has deployed a new cruise missile system that violates the 1987 INF Treaty.

So, what is this new missile and does it really violate the INF treaty:

It’s not really a new missile. It’s a modified ground launched version of the naval cruise missile with the NATO designation SS-N-30A. Sometimes the press will refer to this naval missile by what they think is its Russian name, Kalibr. This is incorrect. Kalibr is actually a family of Russian naval missiles that share the same type of ship-based vertical launch system.

It is also important to note that this new missile possibly began development as early as 2007. US intelligence became aware of tests with this missile, but made no formal complaints as Russia did not conduct any tests that exceeded the range limits of the INF treaty. Testing began again in 2013 and the Obama administration made a formal complaint to the Russian government after a missile test was confirmed to have exceeded the 500km range limit of the INF Treaty. In early 2015 someone in the Obama administration made what was probably an authorized leak about the new missile system in order to shore up support for increased tactical air capability in Europe. At some point around this time NATO officially designated the missile as the SSC-X-8. This is secret stuff, so I don’t know for certain when the missile got that name, it might have been as early as late 2014.

The “X” in that designation stood for “experimental”, meaning that the weapon was not actually deployed. The missile is now called the SSC-8. The SSC-8 is deployed in two missile battalions. One is in its training base near Volgograd, the location of the other one is unknown.

The SSC-8 does not necessarily violate the INF Treaty as that agreement allows for up to 100 weapons systems with ranges between 500-5000km in locations where they can’t be fired into Europe or Russia. This is an obviously useless provision for the US as we are unlikely to deploy missiles of such a type to attack Canada or Mexico, but the Soviets in 1987 wanted to retain the capability to point such weapons at China.

Since some SSC-8 missiles are in Volgograd, putting them in range of European targets covered by the INF Treaty, Russia is in violation of the treaty. The other battalion could also be in a location that violates the treaty.

Are there any pictures?

No, there are not. Though I expect there may soon be some official Russian video. As of now, Russia seems to be trying to deny such a missile exists. Pay no attention to these denials. If NATO gave it a number, the missile is real.

While there are no official pictures, The Board can show you some pictures of the SS-N-30A and a picture of the launch vehicle that carries the Iskander missile system. The SSC-8 uses a similar vehicle.

 

This missile reminds me of something. Hmm…

Yes, the SSC-8 is similar in concept to the classic BGM-109G Gryphon developed in the 70s and deployed in the 80s. Like the SSC-8, the Gryphon was a repurposed naval missile based the venerable and effective Tomahawk. Like the Gryphon, the SSC-8 is mobile, probably more mobile than the Gryphon as the old BGM-109G never ventured far from its hardened shelters due to secrecy and security concerns. SSC-8 will be able to roam further in Putin’s Russia.

Let’s have a look at the Gryphon for old times sake:

pv-bmg-109g

The huge irony is that the Gryphon was one of the missiles that was cut to pieces after the INF Treaty, and now Russia seems to be deploying a similar missile.

Is this missile a response to US pressure?

Sort of. While the US has in no way violated the INF treaty, Russia seems to be taking a long term strategic view. Bush 41 assured Russia that NATO expansion was unthinkable, but gradually NATO crept up to Russia’s borders in the Clinton and Bush 43 years. Yeltsin should have asked in writing for a promise from NATO, but he was at the time distracted by internal security concerns.

Russia is very concerned with US deployments of Aegis Ashore BMD systems now completed in Romania and under construction in Poland. At this time these installations are not very capable of degrading Russian strategic capability, they may soon be with eventual upgrades. Also, Germany is developing independent defensive systems and sharing technology with the US and France. And don’t forget that France has been gradually upgrading the range and accuracy of their nuclear weapons since the 90s.

I understand Russia’s position even though Russian strategic capabilities are not currently threatened. One thing I should point out, and you’ll come across this if you read a lot of Russian media as I sometimes do, is the notion that Aegis Ashore by itself violates the INF Treaty. They say this because Aegis Ashore BMD uses the same vertical launch system as Aegis equipped ships. These launch boxes can hold a Tomahawk cruise missile, a missile that sometimes carries a nuclear weapon.

I really think it is unlikely that the US would put a nuclear armed Tomahawk in Poland or Romania. Yes, it could happen, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t happened in Romania and won’t happen in Poland. I’m pretty sure this is just a story circulated around in Russia to scare folks into supporting Putin.

How should NATO respond to this?

Yes, that’s a good question. A worse question would be how should the US respond. These weapons threaten Europe, and any response needs to be mindful of the concerns of every European power.

Trump’s response has simply been a call for an arms race once again now that he’s President as if arms races by themselves solve anything. As I have pointed out, Trump does not have a lot of options if he wants an arms race since just about every strategic system that can be upgraded is already being upgraded.

What I find troubling is that Trump is unconcerned because when the 2011 New START agreement comes up for renegotiation in 2018, he thinks he can do better than Obama did.

First off, New START is already in a lot of trouble. As I have pointed out, both the US and Russia have pushed the limits of that agreement. His Orangeness would do well to try to extend it, but since he didn’t negotiate it, it must be no good.

And the Trump Administration is pretty much clueless about the kind of secrecy and security required for strategic policy. Trump is a walking security leak. Yes, Russian Mole General Flynn has been expelled, but Tillerson is Secretary of State.

Even if there were no inner circle moles, Trump is clueless about security. At Mar El Lago Trump looked at maps with the Japanese Prime Minister concerning a North Korean missile launch shining cell phone flashlights on the maps and documents. Are all these phones secure? Probably not. And one diner at Mar El Lago managed to take a selfie with the Nuclear Football carrier. As an American patriot who takes our strategic strength seriously, I will not link to the pictures that prove this. Google for them if you must, and you will find that I am right. But for the sake of American security I ask that you do not click on any links to boost rankings.

Trump cannot negotiate from a position of strength because he is compromised.

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