Recently, a number of additional Russian arms control violations have come to light. Just retired Commander of the Russian Air Force (now called the Aerospace Force) Colonel General Viktor Bondarev has revealed that Russia has the “Skif bottom missiles.” The “Skif” is the nuclear-armed intercontinental-range SS-N-23 SLBM. Emplacing nuclear missiles on the ocean floor is prohibited by the “Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Seabed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof,” which, according to the Department of State, “…prohibits parties from emplacing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction on the seabed and the ocean floor beyond a 12-mile coastal zone.”
Most of the newly revealed Russian arms control violations involve the INF Treaty which prohibits ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500-5,500-km. In November 2017, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, stated that Russia has “set up full-scale units of vehicles capable of delivering precision-guided missiles to targets located up to 4,000 kilometers away.” Not only is this a clear violation of the INF Treaty, but the range number is well in excess of previous reports. While the Obama administration found Russia in violation of the INF Treaty in 2014, it never revealed which missile was involved. In June 2017, an unclassified intelligence report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), a part of the U.S. Air Force, indicated that Russia had the 3M14, a ground-, sea- and submarine-launched cruise missile with a range of 2,500-km. The 3M14 is the Russian nuclear-capable Kalibr cruise missile. The Kalibr, while very capable, obviously does not have the 4,000-km range mentioned by General Gerasimov. The apparent reason is that there is another Russian cruise missile that violates the INF Treaty. In a December 2017 speech at the Wilson Center, senior National Security Council official Christopher Ford said that the missile which violates the INF Treaty is known in Russia as the 9M729. This confirms some earlier press reports. This apparently is the missile that Bill Gertz first reported and characterized as the SSC-X-08, which is a NATO designator.
According to Russian expert and arms control enthusiast Pavel Podvig, “…the 9M729 missile is almost identical to a missile that was tested at the INF range, probably to the sea-launched Kalibr.” He provides no source for this or any explanation why the 9M729 if it is “almost identical” to the Kalibr, has a completely different Russian designator number. At a minimum, it would suggest that it is a major upgrade of the Kalibr which could be consistent with General Gerasimov’s range number. The 9M729 could be the 5,000-km range nuclear capable cruise missile which Ria Novosti (the English version is now called Sputnik News), an official Russian Government news agency, repeatedly reported but never identified by name or number. For example, in 2013 Ria Novosti stated, “The Project 885 vessel [the Yasen class submarine] is designed to launch conventional or nuclear warhead-bearing missiles up to 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers), as well as effectively engage other submarines, surface warships and land-based targets.”
Thus, we apparently now face two very long-range nuclear-capable Russian ground-launched cruise missile types that violate the INF Treaty. A second Russian long-range ground-launched cruise missile could explain Gerasimov’s 4,000-km range number. Multiple nuclear-capable missile types in each range band are now the norm in Russia.
Earlier in 2017, the Trump Administration confirmed a New York Times story by Michael Gordon which said that the missile that violated the INF Treaty had been deployed by Russia. Worse still, recent reports are saying that the 9M729 is being launched from the Iskander-M launcher. Russia has a large Iskander-M force and is expanding it to ten brigades by 2020. Podvig accurately noted, “If 9M729 was tested from an Iskander launcher even once, all these launchers will have to be eliminated. And that seems to be the case.” This simply is not going to happen because Russia has no intent to reverse its violations of the INF Treaty.
In addition to the 3M14 and the 9M729, there are two other shorter ranged Russian ground-launched cruise missiles that are reportedly violations of the INF Treaty because of their range. These are the R-500 missile, part of the Iskander-M system, and the Bastion. Both are operationally deployed.
In November 2007, Ria Novosti reported, “The flight range of a new cruise missile adapted for Iskander and successfully tested in May 2007 could exceed 500 km (310 miles).” In November 2008, it revealed that the potential range of the R-500 “can exceed 2,000 kilometers…” In 2008, Russian arms control expert Viktor Myasnikov wrote that the R-500 exceeded the limit of the INF Treaty on its first test and its range could be expanded to 1,000 kilometers. Kommersant, a major Russian publication, maintained that the range of the R-500 “can amount to 1,000 kilometers.” Pravda.ru reported it has a range of 2,000-km. Writing in Ria Novosti and for the UPI, noted Russian journalist Ilya Kramnik said that the range of the R-500, and possibly a second missile type, could be between 1,200 and 3,000-km. In RIA Novosti, Kramnik concluded the R-500 was a violation of the INF Treaty. In January 2009, he stated that “Iskander can be equipped with cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,000 km (1,243 miles), and even 3,000 km (1,865 miles) that will allow it to destroy targets anywhere in Western Europe.” Mikhail Barabanov, chief editor of the Moscow Defense Brief, wrote that the R-500 range could be more than 1,000-km. The difference in reported ranges could be explained by the existence of two versions of the R-500. In 2014, noted Russian journalist Pavel Felgenhauer “…said the missile (R-500) has been tested at a range of 1,000 km,” but the “range could be extended up to 2,000-3,000 km by adding extra fuel tanks.”
Russia also has a supersonic ground-launched cruise missile system called Bastion which carries the Onix missile. It is mainly an anti-ship missile but also has a land-attack capability which was used in Syria. In July 2016, Interfax, Russia’s main unofficial news agency, reported, “The Bastion coastal defense system has an operational range of 600 kilometers and can be used against surface ships of varying class and type…” There are other press reports that maintain that the Bastion has a range of 600-1,000-km.
Thus, we now have four different Russian ground-launched cruise missiles, two revealed in U.S. government sources and two reported in both the Russian and Western press, which have reported ranges that violate the INF Treaty. This is not a trivial issue and it is not going to be resolved by negotiations because of a decades-old very weak compliance policy on the part of the U.S. The Obama administration’s policy of declaring a serious violation of the core element of the INF Treaty and doing absolutely nothing about it is an egregious example of our failed compliance policy.
In December 2016, TASS, Russia’s main government news agency, reported that a new Russian “ICBM,” the RS-26 Rubezh “was accepted for service in late 2016.” If true, this is a very important development because there are outstanding compliance issues relating to the missile under both the INF Treaty and the New START Treaty. A recent TASS report raises the issue of a covert deployment of the RS-26 because there is no indication that Russia has conducted the required New START Treaty demonstration of the missile and its launcher. This treaty requirement involves viewing, measuring and photographing these items before deployment. Indeed, respected Russian journalist Alexander Golts has observed in an article entitled “Russia’s Rubezh Ballistic Missile Disappears off the Radar,” that, “Moscow postponed the demonstration of the new missile to US inspectors from 2015 to 2016. But this exhibition has still not been conducted to date.” Deploying the missile without the required demonstration would be a major violation of the New START Treaty verification regime. It would require that the deployment be covert, which would mean it not being counted against the New START Treaty limits.
According to Kommersant, former Duma Defense Committee Vice Chairman Alexsey Arbatov, said, “…judging from the unofficial assessments of the experts, this system [the RS-26] is also designed for intermediate-range targeting, which de facto corresponds to the category of missiles eliminated under the [INF] Treaty…” A June 2017 NASIC report indicated, “Russia claims it will deploy the RS-26 Rubezh for shorter-range targets…” Under a Treaty interpretation provided to the Senate by the Reagan administration during the INF Treaty ratification process, the RS-26, because of the way it has been tested, is a violation of the INF Treaty.
The New START Treaty compliance issue relates to the fact the RS-26 apparently uses the first two stages of the SS-27, which is an ICBM maintained, stored and transported as an assembled missile in a launch canister. If so, this is a violation of the New START Treaty because the first stage of the missile is coming out of a production facility in two different upper stage configurations (the two staged RS-26 and the three staged RS-24). A demonstration of the RS-26 would conclusively prove compliance or noncompliance. This may be the reason for the Russian reluctance to stage a demonstration of the RS-26. The Department of State has completely ignored the RS-26 compliance issues.
In November 2017, state-run Russia Beyond the Headlines confirmed reports that the range of the Iskander-M is in the INF Treaty prohibited zone. It stated that there were eight different types of rockets for the Iskander-M and, “Each [of the] various missile[s] can be charged with a warhead packed with up to 500 kilo[s] of high explosive, which can destroy enemy military bases and ground forces up to 600 km away.” Because of the INF Treaty range definition for ballistic missiles, this may be a circumvention rather than a violation.
The latest Russian arms control violations add to a long list of previous noncompliance. If the State Department continues to ignore most Russian violations of its arms control commitments, there will never be an arms control agreement that will achieve its supposed objectives and enhance U.S. national security. Fortunately, there are indications that the Trump administration will respond to the INF Treaty violations. Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, has said, “The administration firmly believes, however, that the United States cannot stand still while the Russian Federation continues to develop military systems in violation of the treaty.” This constitutes a revival of the Reagan approach to arms control compliance, which has been the only approach pursued by the U.S. that has ever worked.
Dr. Mark B. Schneider is a Senior Analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy. Before his retirement from the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service, Dr. Schneider served in a number of senior positions within the Office of Secretary of Defense for Policy including Principal Director for Forces Policy, Principal Director for Strategic Defense, Space and Verification Policy, Director for Strategic Arms Control Policy and Representative of the Secretary of Defense to the Nuclear Arms Control Implementation Commissions. He also served in the senior Foreign Service as a Member of the State Department Policy Planning Staff.
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 Bill Gertz, “Russia Again Flight Tests Illegal INF Cruise Missile,” The Washington Free Beacon, September 28, 2015, available at http://freebeacon.com/national-security/russia-again-flight-tests-illegal-inf-cruise-missile/.: “Russia to permanently base Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad soon,” op. cit.
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 “Russia: US Suspicions of Russi[a]n Violations of INF Treaty Refuted,” Kommersant, December 12, 2013. (Translated by World News Connection.)
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