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Russia Successfully Tests Short-Range Missile Defense Shield

The new A-235 system is mobile and will be capable of intercepting ballistic missiles at short, medium, and long ranges

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The threat of America’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) being expanded over the past two years has prompted Moscow to step up efforts to develop a new missile defense system of its own.  

Russia is in the process of creating a state-of-the-art missile defence shield to fend off contemporary threats. The new system, which will replace the A-135 Amur, has been designated as the A-235.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have recently tested a new short-range interceptor missile (62-620 miles) at a firing range in Kazakhstan.

The test was a success and the target was hit as planned, said Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny, deputy commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The launch marks another major milestone for Moscow’s efforts to enhance national security.

In autumn of 2012, Russia’s defence authorities stated that the functional BMD system, the A-135 Amur, was being given a major upgrade. Colonel General (retired) Viktor Yesin, former Chief of the Main Staff of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, said the missiles were being replaced with new ones with an improved design.

All the other elements of the system, including the detection and tracking components, were also being revamped.

At the initial stage the system will defend Moscow and the central industrial district against a limited force nuclear strike. Later it will become the basis for integrated multi-stage aerospace defense system of the whole country.

The system will use multiple types of missiles to provide an ability to destroy incoming warheads at long ranges and at extremely high altitudes bordering on orbital.

The A-235 will have missiles capable of operating at three different ranges: long-range, based on the 51T6 and capable of destroying targets at distances up to 1500 km (930 miles), at altitudes up to 800,000 m; medium-range, an update of the 58R6, designed to hit targets at distances up to 1000 km (620 miles), at altitudes up to 120,000 m; and short-range (the 53T6M or 45T6 (based on the 53T6)), with an operating range of 350 km (215 miles) and a flight ceiling of 40,000-50,000 m.

«The composition and tactical characteristics of the Russian missile defense system allow deterring a nuclear missile attack and increasing the nuclear retaliation threshold and survivability of the top military headquarters and government authorities, and developing the scale, concept and objective of an attack, using highly accurate jamming-immune information-gathering systems», the Defense Ministry said.

There are two major differences from the A-135. The first is that the A-235 will use conventional high-explosive and kinetic-energy warheads, rather than nuclear ones. It will greatly decrease the system’s cost and complexity, and also the associated infrastructure needs which will no longer have to ensure proper security for the nuclear munitions. With the estimates velocity of 10 km per second, a solid-fuel interceptor will probably need no explosive at all. A kinetic warhead relies on its high velocity to inflict maximum damage. This fact is of fundamental importance. It shows that Russia possesses the cutting-edge technology which allows to avoid the possible technological and human losses that would result from the radiation of a nuclear explosion.

The second difference is that the A-235 will be mobile. It means that the system will have a level of flexibility that the fixed-site and silo-based A-135 does not. The mobility of the A-235 means that it can be not only deployed at any location within Russia’s territory. The current geopolitics suggest such locations could include not only the islands and archipelagos of the Arctic (where a BMD system could easily shoot down NATO submarine-launched missiles in their boost phase), but also outside of its borders, including on the territory of friendly states. This fact is a game changer. It shows that a Russian missile defense system can easily negate any advantage from stationing comparable US systems in Poland and Romania or elsewhere.

Understandably, a lot of things about the Russian and US missile defense efforts are still classified but it’s not the focus on technical details that is important. In 2002 the US unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) the cornerstone of arms control process.

The only reason the ABM Treaty was ever signed and ratified was the USSR’s demonstrated ability to deploy effective missile defense systems. The US withdrawal from that treaty was driven by its leaders’ arrogant assumption that the United States could launch a new nuclear arms race with no country able to counter it. Once Russia demonstrates its ability to field the next-generation of strategic anti-ballistic systems, this assumption holds no water anymore.

Evidently, the security of the United States has diminished since it tore up the ABM Treaty. After the dissolution of the USSR, former US President Richard Nixon observed that the United States had won the Cold War, but had not yet won the peace.

Since then, three US administrations representing both political parties have failed to be up for the task. On the contrary, peace seems increasingly out of reach as threats to US security multiply, including the arms control regime moving to the brink of collapse.

President Obama has also failed to effectively address the issue. Now the new US administration elected in November to take office in January 2017 will have to make a decision. The choice is to proceed with uncontrolled arms race or rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to give the arms control process a chance. The ball is in the US court.

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