NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently said he was highly concerned about new Russian missile systems. His remarks came during a meeting of the 29 member states Defense Ministers in Brussels held last week.
What Russian Weapons are Alarming NATO?
Stoltenberg did not only refer to the Russian cruise missiles SSC-8, which can hit targets in Europe and for which America terminated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Stoltenberg is also worried about the new hypersonic weapons that Moscow has developed, some of which have already been deployed. Consequently, the alliance will need to address the issue, but most importantly, NATO must determine how the alliance can maintain credible deterrence in the face of these threats.
Russia: Outperforming NATO on Short and Medium-Range Systems
Stoltenberg has every reason to be concerned. Russia is now outperforming NATO in short and medium-range systems, which has led to a significant imbalance and alarm in Brussels. This means nothing less than that a “Mutual Assured Destruction” scenario has become questionable under the current circumstances. While Russia’s SSC-8 cruise missiles have the speed of an ordinary passenger plan airliner with a range of 1,800 kilometers – which provides NATO with a warning time of up to two hours – these systems are nonetheless challenging to track down due to their variable trajectory.
The new Kinschal air-to-surface missile – which was developed for the Russian nuclear bombers – is an entirely different story, however. This rocket is released in flight and then rises to a height of 18 to 20 kilometers. It should reach ten times the supersonic speed and is designed to hit its target within a few minutes. This scenario eclipses the missile defense capabilities of all European NATO countries.
The same applies to the Avangard gliding missile, which is launched into space by an ICBM, initially with the SS-19, from 2022 with the newly-developed Sarmat. The missile itself can be located, but as soon as the glider separates from it, only the detonation will tell what exactly happened next. The extremely heat-resistant object is said to move to its destination at more than twenty times the speed of sound and is reportedly also to be able to fly waves.
Russia equipped the first missile regiment with Avangard at the end of December, which NATO considers being credible. Moscow even offered inspections to the U.S. as the system falls under the New Start treaty to limit strategic weapons of attack. The agreement expires next year, the Kremlin seeks to extend it, and most NATO members seek it too for obvious reasons. However, so far, President Donald Trump has not yet committed himself to a new agreement.
How Can NATO Effectively Address Russia’s Military Tech Advances?
NATO will need to find a solution to Russia’s technological advancements. So far, however, the alliance has decided only one path: no new land-based nuclear medium-range systems will be stationed in Europe. The rationale is as simple as it is noble: NATO seeks to prevent a new arms race like the one that occurred in the 1980s. However this agreement this does not solve the problem of imbalance. Thus, despite its nobility, this approach is highly likely to be obsolete and redundant under the current circumstances.
The deployment of conventional medium-range systems in Europe, developed by the United States, is conceivable. Moreover, since the beginning of February, the U.S. has equipped its ballistic missiles on the submarines with a smaller nuclear warhead in an attempt to counter the Russians with tactical weapons.
The U.S. Congress is also debating the development of a nuclear-powered cruise missile for installation on nuclear submarines. Meanwhile, the challenge posed by hypersonic weapons is being addressed too. The Pentagon has been tendering the development of a new type of interceptor, while the U.S. Air Force recently announced that it was building a supersonic missile for its fighter jets. Whoever is had been hoping for any proactive European contribution to face the issue other than mere diplomatic reaction and rhetoric will once again be disappointed.