Jeffrey LewisRussian Early Warning

 

Update | 10:19 am PST 4 September 2013 Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov (aka Anatoly Anin aka Tolya aka Huggy Bear) made a reference to the 1995 Norwegian sounding rocket episode in terms of explaining why Russia is less than happy with the launch. “Antonov called on those who launched the so-called missile-like targets to be more responsible for regional security and ‘not play with fire.’ … He recalled that a meteorological rocket launch by Norway in 1995 was mistaken as a possible rocket attack on Russia.” (Russian|English)

 

It may be the vodka talking, but let’s roll!

The Russians detected two missile launches associated with an American-Israeli ballistic missile defense test in the Mediterranean — its not clear at the moment if, in fact, the test involved two launches. (Jonathan McDowell @planet4589 and Pavel Podvig @russianforces are puzzling that out at the moment on Twitter.)

 The initial press reporting, as described by Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times, suggests the Russians early warning capabilities are not much better than they were in 1995:

…In Russia, the missile launch was first reported by the RIA Novosti state news agency, which announced early Tuesday afternoon that Russian radar had detected the launch of what it called two ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean Sea, giving no further clarification.

The announcement set off breathless conjecture on Russian news sites and social media networks of an American strike against Syria. Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, was reported to have briefed President Vladimir V. Putin about the missile launch, even as the lack of details in state media reports raised the question of whether Russian officials knew precisely what had occurred.

The reports from the Russian Ministry of Defense said rockets had been launched more than two hours before the news broke and yet the missiles had not seemed to hit any target in the region. When the missiles were reported to have crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, the Interfax news service cited a source in the Russian Navy suggesting that the launch may have been a meteorological experiment….

I have long argued that we should be very, very worried about Russian fears about what I call “command performance.”  This doesn’t make me feel any better.

I continue to believe that the major threat to US-Russian strategic stability is a deep and profound Russian worry that they are vulnerable to a decapitating first strike against their leadership, a point I have made in blog posts, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and the occasional column for Foreign Policy:

We may be wrong about what frightens the Russians. In recent years, American officials have been driven bonkers by Russia’s refusal to accept their assurances that missile defense interceptors in deployed in Europe won’t threaten Russia’s deterrent. The United States shows PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide to demonstrate the physical impossibility that these interceptors could hit a Russian ICBM. The Russians remain unmollified. Frustrated U.S. officials claim the Russians either don’t understand or don’t want to.

There is another possibility, of course, which is that the Russians are not being frank about their concerns with the United States. It is not too hard to imagine, for example, that the Russian General Staff would have little interest in providing an itemized list of vulnerabilities to the United States. Yet if the Russians don’t wish to tell us what ails them, perhaps we can divine it. There is the notion of revealed preference — the notion that observable acts may reveal preferences of which an actor is not even consciously aware.

Here are two candidates: In September 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the Russians had expressed concern that U.S. missile defense interceptors in Europe “could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.” (The United States and Soviet Union prohibited such missiles under the 1987 INF Treaty.) He said it was hard to believe, but that the Russians apparently meant it. A senior official later told me he didn’t expect to hear that in an unclassified setting. I’ve never heard it again. Second, in the context of the New START negotiations, the Russians insisted on a ban on converting ICBM silos to house missile defense interceptors and vice-versa. This nearly killed the treaty, by the way.

It is a funny sort of paranoid fantasy, the notion that the United States might place nuclear weapons on missile defense interceptors and use them to decapitate the Russian leadership in Moscow. But I suspect this is the rub. The simplest explanation for Russia’s overwhelming concern with missile defense is that the General Staff fears that Russia is much, much more vulnerable to an attack against the country’s command-and-control infrastructure — what used to be called decapitation — than we realize.  Part of this is a fear missile defense interceptors could be armed as offensive missiles, part of it is that missile defenses could mop up a disorganized Russian retaliation.  Most of it, however, is probably sheer terror at the persistent technological advantage held by the United States in light of Russian vulnerabilities.

This is what makes our failure to extend arms control beyond mere reductions so dangerous. The Russians are, I suspect, convinced that they cannot count on being able to command their forces following an attack  They believe they are dangerously, provocatively vulnerable. And, as a result, they make strange, dangerous, and seemingly irrational decisions. Which brings us to Perimeter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Perimeter? It’s better known as the Dead Hand — a large automated system the Soviets began constructing sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s that could launch strategic forces in the event that the leadership was destroyed. Although it is commonly portrayed as a Doomsday Machine, journalist Nick Thompson — Paul Nitze’s grandson by the way — has explained that Soviet leaders thought Perimeter might be stabilizing. “Perimeter also bought the Soviets time,” Thompson wrote. “If Soviet radar picked up an ominous but ambiguous signal, the leaders could turn on Perimeter and wait.” It has a certain sort of logic, if you are a paranoid septuagenarian Soviet apparatchik. It is also a nuclear nightmare waiting to happen.

The current Russian leadership is populated by the direct descendants of the people who propsed, built, and operated the Dead Hand and nearly took the world to nuclear war in 1983 over a NATO command post exercise. (The current chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces started his career as a platoon leader with the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany in the 1970s.) Perhaps they don’t come to nice luncheons at Washington think tanks. If they do, they certainly don’t detail Russia’s command vulnerabilities over Chicken Kiev. But they exist and arms control is about managing their fears.

Of course, finding a way to address the Russian fear that their command system would not survive an attack is extraordinarily difficult. It is far more sensitive than anything we’ve managed to negotiate in an arms control treaty. In an era when U.S. and Russian negotiators cannot so much as raise the issue of missile defenses without triggering a hostile reaction from a healthy section of the U.S. Congress, what chance to do we have to discuss command vulnerability? Congressional opponents of New START screamed about preambular language in the treaty noting the relationship between offensive and defensive forces. They depicted the ban on placing missile defense interceptors in ICBM silos as a furious assault on U.S. missile defense programs, nay, our American way of life. And now we are going to discuss nuclear weapons, missile defenses, and conventional strike in terms of the holiest of holies: command and control? You’d have a better chance of getting a strip club recommendation from the Pope. (I have at least one suggestion, but it’s pretty modest.) Yet, this is the spot we’re in — with perhaps one more round of reductions remaining before we and the Russians are left alone, with our failure to fundamentally change the most dangerous dynamic of the Cold War.

I know, it’s an uncomfortable idea.  But just think about it for bit.

Comments

  1. krepon (History)

    Jeffrey:
    Given Vladimir Putin’s song and dance, I had become a bit nostalgic about Leonid Brezhnev. But after seeing your photo, this impulse has passed.
    MK

  2. Arrigo (History)

    It must be “Peter Sellers Week” in the world…

    First we got the GCHQ guys hammering computers in the basement of The Guardian to eliminate sensitive data from Snowden and the more I read the article by the editor the more I found myself visualising Peter Sellers as Dr. Deeppacket with a mallet disintegrating MacBooks in slow motion to the notes of Carmina Burana with Peter Sellers as The Guardian editor looking over his shoulder attempting to avoid being hit by flying RAM chips while having a Facetime conversation with Snowden”.

    Now the Russians have an “I’m sorry Dmitri” moment and you trigger more Peter Sellers images with the photo of Dimitri on the phone…

    Peter, Stanley, please come back, we need you!

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    The humor is amusing but distracting.

    This is an ongoing serious strategic failure on our part, to engage with our opposites’ actual fears and needs rather than projecting our own upon them.

    I think it would be valuable to imagine an end state for disarmament efforts, short of global zero (which I feel to be destabilizing on many levels), which is maximally stabilizing. It needs to accomodate fears of decapitation strikes as Russia have right now, fears of breakout states, etc. A balance of prompt and non-prompt options in the residual force; expectations for command and control of weapons, delivery systems, and units; and depth of resilience for command and control functions to allow NCA on all sides to have confidence their national integrity won’t be arbitrarily destroyed by external forces.

    • Edward Marshall (History)

      Why fear zero? If the process actually got there, what is the end game for breaking out (and presumably not getting caught.)?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Not getting caught is somewhat of a misconception of the problem. The issue with breakout in a zero world isn’t use; nuclear weapons are primarily useful in deterrence – either passive deterrence (“The US maintains 450 Minuteman III ICBMs ready at all times”) or active deterrence (“The Republic of Bilge will use its force of Petunia-III nuclear missiles upon military bases of the Peoples Democratic Army of Atlantis if Atlantean forces interfere in our conquest of Lower Slobovia.”). Both types require announcing a credible weapon and delivery mechanism so that the deterrees are in fact deterred.

      Simply making one and nuking someone with it from a position of secrecy is an act of terrorism writ large; governments don’t do that sort of thing, as it ends up grossly counterproductive. A government that could get away with such an act (survive the resultant massive conventional response) would not need the nuke in the first place, they’d have enough force projection capability to do serious damage with conventional weapons. An unstable government might try something like that, but would be squashed by everyone with ability to do so; madmen with WMDs will not be tolerated. Distinct from the situation in Syria, where it’s rational, dangerous and horrific people with WMDs we’re up in arms over, not madmen who would strike other countries without fear. Had Syria fired Sarin over the border into Jordan or Turkey we would have retaliated in hours without asking for UN or Congressional approval. If they fired it over the border into Israel, at a city or town and not a random rocket off course, Syria would need a new capital already. Same with nukes.

      A terrorist group might use one, but even if they do, a massive conventional response is the most useful retaliation.

      Breaking out is a materials problem. The design knowledge has long since left the barn.

      There are way too many avenues for someone with moderate industrial facilities and budget and with credible access to raw stocks to enrich, or separate. Without much more rigouous feed material and spent material accounting and security, worldwide, ensuring no breakout is nigh-on impossible.

      Doing so completely secretly is mostly a problem of scale; all your employees need to be dedicated and reliable to keep it quiet, which is exponentially more difficult as staff levels increase. And you have to ensure complete signals intelligence silence for the project’s sensitive parts.

      The hardest part is making sure – really, really sure – that all the parties currently at N > 0 really build down to zero and whatever currently weapons usable material is present is downblended and disposed of so it can’t be returned to service. Someone secreting away a ton of HEU “for a rainy day” could not be ruled out, for example.

    • Kusigrosz (History)

      “governments don’t do that sort of thing”?
      Hmmm, I think I can recollect a government that did just that, that is, made one and nuked someone with it from a position of secrecy.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      Here is a possible nonzero disarmament point. Concentrate on reducing nuclear weapons below the point where command and control can be seriously threatened by a first strike. In the 1980s it was said that a mere 50-100 warheads could effectively demolish command and control, making a second strike less likely and less effective. More recently I have seen suggestions that this threshold number might be as high as 300. Hence, limit the number of nuclear weapons to 300 or less per nation. A known limit would also motivate each side to build robust command and control that could survive an attack by the limited number of weapons, making a second strike more likely and more effective, thereby (hopefully) deterring the first strike.

      Another way to limit the problem of first strike and a hasty launch-on-warning second strike is to take all or most nuclear weapons out of a prompt-launch status. This would require that each side be able to continuously verify, in real time, the non-ready status of the other side’s weapons. This means any warning of enemy first strike can’t be true, and even if true, we can’t second strike anyway, thereby scotching the whole idea of nuclear war by mistake. This could be consistent with 1000+ weapons on each side. The only “downside” is that continuous, real-time verifiability of non-ready status is likely to be feasible only for land-based missiles in known locations.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Jonah Speaks writes:
      “Concentrate on reducing nuclear weapons below the point where command and control can be seriously threatened by a first strike. In the 1980s it was said that a mere 50-100 warheads could effectively demolish command and control, making a second strike less likely and less effective. More recently I have seen suggestions that this threshold number might be as high as 300. Hence, limit the number of nuclear weapons to 300 or less per nation.”

      Yes, this is good thinking.

      It might be worthwhile to consider a variation on this, which reduced the number of loaded promptly deliverable (ICBM, SLBM) warheads below that C&C threatening threshold, though allowing upload / cruise missile / bomber bombs to a higher level if desired.

      Your slightly later suggestion of taking everything above the threshold off alert status is a lot harder to verify; it would be a lot easier to just reduce prompt weapons platform / warhead counts below the threshold.

      The question is, what is Russia’s current perceived threshold? 100? 250? 10? …

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      George, Thank you for your further thoughts. Obviously, if the threshold is only 10, we are pretty close to global zero anyway. If the threshold is 250, we are close to the numbers other nuclear powers have, so this could be turned into a multinational limit.

      Why do you regard an upload capacity as valuable? Presumably this option would be exercised only in severe crisis, but that is when national commands would be in most fear of a decapitating first strike.

      My current view is that mutual real-time verifiability of non-prompt status is likely to be most feasible only for land-based weapons (least verifiable for submarines). If hardened silos are only vulnerable to other nukes, it may be acceptable to rely primarily on land-based weapons and eliminate the submarine nukes. However, some have expressed the view that silos are vulnerable to strictly conventional attack. See, for example, John Schilling’s views expressed here:
      http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/6723/size-doesnt-matter

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Jonah Speaks wrote:
      Why do you regard an upload capacity as valuable? Presumably this option would be exercised only in severe crisis, but that is when national commands would be in most fear of a decapitating first strike.

      This is a complicated problem. There is “getting to the low limit” and “living at the low limit”, which will happen in order.

      Getting to the limit will (among many other things) require convincing a lot of people who want a large MAD buffer that it’s not going entirely away as we reduce the force. The ability to upload and a store of non-deployed weapons addresses that.

      Living at the low limit … an uploaded missile is EXACTLY the wrong thing to keep stability in place, particularly in crisies. MIRV, as technically neat as it is, is horribly destabilizing; the missile in its silo represents a very attractive target to preempt; two MXes with 10 warheads each can preempt 10 SS-18s with 10 warheads each with 9 of 10 being likely to be killed; he who in a crisis breaks and pushes the button first wins big. Single warhead ICBMs present much less attractive targets, and more of them.

      It is inherent in the throw weight of Minuteman-III and SS-25/27 missiles that they have MIRV capability. New smaller missiles are needed to eliminate that risk permanently. How this evolves, I don’t know; it’s a complicated problem, including cost issues and long development and lifecycle issues.

      My current view is that mutual real-time verifiability of non-prompt status is likely to be most feasible only for land-based weapons (least verifiable for submarines). If hardened silos are only vulnerable to other nukes, it may be acceptable to rely primarily on land-based weapons and eliminate the submarine nukes.

      In one sense, most sub missiles aren’t able to be uploaded at sea right now, so a verification at dock prior to sailing could be good enough to confirm that there’s no upload deployed.

      It’s possible someone could develop a launch tube upload mechanism, however (given a desire to do it, I can think of several ways immediately, and if I can then it’s a technical risk…).

      One could posit an exchange of monitoring officers, who would ride along with the other side’s submarines, and be allowed to count warheads off the birds and visually inspect the SLBMs in their tubes to verify no upload. A communications protocol, with a set of challenge/responses specific to each officer to confirm no uploaded missiles, and agreement to transmit to the sub a challenge and have the officer allowed to send the response back up once a (week, month, whatever) during at-sea operations could alleviate that fear.

      However, some have expressed the view that silos are vulnerable to strictly conventional attack. See, for example, John Schilling’s views expressed here:

      http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/6723/size-doesnt-matter

      This is absolutely true.

      The US can deliver a conventional warhead or bomb with high reliability to within approximately an area the size of a silo’s roof.

      A GBU-28 class weapon (BLU-113 4,700 lb) or BLU-116 weapon (2,000 lb bomb size multiple weapons..) can penetrate many meters of reinforced concrete. The GBU-28 test unit went through 22 feet of reinforced concrete and continued a mile downrange before it stopped, for example.

      Given a conventional ICBM delivery mechanism, higher speed penetrators are possible, with speeds up to say 4-5 km/s. Rocket-assisted conventionally delivered penetrators also could reach those velocities. At those velocities, a long-rod DU penetrator would probably have about 4x the penetration distance in reinforced concrete as in steel. A super robust six meter deep silo lid would be about 1500 mm RHA steel equivalent; 120mm tank guns are about half that with 10 year old projectiles, with 6 ish kg penetrators at 1,650 m/s or so. That same penetrator at twice the velocity would penetrate twice as far or more.

      Against existing silos, these bombs and tank gun projectiles can penetrate the silo top and walls for existing silos. Hypothetical superhard silos, perhaps not yet. But a scaled up long rod penetrator that weighed 1,000 lb, launched on a Minuteman-III, would be hard to stop with any depth of protection.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      George, thank you for the extended response.

      My concern about submarine nukes – strictly about the alert status, not how many weapons are on board – is how to verify in real time that weapons are either on alert or off alert while on the submarine hiding under the ocean. If they can be surreptitiously placed on alert, then they can be used in a first strike.

      My concern about the land-based nukes – vulnerability to conventional attack – maybe could be addressed through arms control. The characteristics of silo-busting conventional weapons would be: 1) able to travel long distances (intercontinental for U.S.-Russia), 2) accurate enough to hit a silo roof, and 3) powerful enough to destroy the silo and any missile inside.

      Is it possible to define and distinguish (and therefore limit) conventional bombs and missiles that have silo-busting capabilities from bombs and missiles that don’t have this capability? Do bombs and missiles with silo-busting capabilities have important and significant military uses (other than busting silos)?

      In other words, is it possible to limit silo-busting conventional weapons, either to zero or a small number, such that an opponent’s land-based missiles are not threatened by strictly conventional attack?

  4. Ben D (History)

    At a less esoteric level, these two missile tests from the central Mediterranean Sea towards Syria would have caused the Syrian missile defence systems to ‘light up’ and thus allow the determination of location and radiation frequency signatures for possible future strike and/or jamming in the event further Obama ordered action awaits.

  5. Magpie (History)

    (I have at least one suggestion, but it’s pretty modest).

    Oh. I thought it was going to be a strip club recommendation.

    Disappointed.

  6. Captain Ned (History)

    That picture of Brezhnev is eerily reminiscent of scenes I see here in Vermont every summer as Quebecois men of Brezhnev’s size (and larger) wearing Speedos haul themselves over the seawall and into the bar behind the ferry dock in Burlington.

  7. Russian Navy Blog (History)

    I took this Power Point from the Russian MOD website years ago, but I think it is the crux of Jeffrey’s argument. The Russians claim that a ground based interceptor is indistinguishable from a MMIII, even though they admit the throw weight on a MMIII is twice as much.

    https://twitter.com/russiannavyblog/status/375083763937468416/photo/1/large

  8. Zachary Smith (History)

    I fail to see what’s so ‘paranoid’ about the Russian concern. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that air-defense missiles were/are capable of “dual use”. It took only a few seconds to verify this.

    http://alpha.fdu.edu/~bender/N-view.html

    “An relatively unknown fact is that the Hercules missile could also be used in a surface-to-surface mode. In this role, the Hercules would have been used to deliver tactical nuclear warheads to destroy concentrations of enemy troops and armored vehicles, or bridges, dams and other significant targets from bases and field deployments located primarily within Western Europe. This surface capability might also have proven useful in other areas where the Hercules missile was deployed including South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. The potential use of Hercules missiles against ships or submarines from coastal sites in the continental United States also appears to have been considered.”

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Zachary Smith wrote in part:
      “I fail to see what’s so ‘paranoid’ about the Russian concern. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that air-defense missiles were/are capable of “dual use”. “

      That is correct but not relevant.

      The US interceptors in question (the big global missile defense missiles in Alaska and Vandenberg) are specialized exoatmospheric interceptors. They’re a pretty honking big multi-stage booster, on top of which is a fragile, space-only interceptor vehicle which is mostly sensors and rocket fuel, and has no capability whatsoever to survive flight in the atmosphere without burning up and exploding.

      The prior generation Nike-Zeus’ ground-to-ground mode might be replicated by a THAAD or Patriot missile software change, but the long range interceptors are useless for that kind of thing.

      It’s true one could put a classic ICBM reentry vehicle and nuclear payload on top of a GMD booster, and make a bastard nuclear IRBM out of it. But if you peek under the shroud and see the exoatmospheric interceptor, that’s not physically able to come down out of the sky on you as a weapon payload.

    • Zachary Smith (History)

      “It’s true one could put a classic ICBM reentry vehicle and nuclear payload on top of a GMD booster, and make a bastard nuclear IRBM out of it. But if you peek under the shroud and see the exoatmospheric interceptor, that’s not physically able to come down out of the sky on you as a weapon payload.”

      I’m afraid I don’t understand this. The “bastard IRBM” is supposed to be what the Russians are afraid of.

      Couldn’t they properly suspect a modern equivalent of the Skunk Works might build some doppelganger missiles with a large nuclear warhead? A bolt-on final stage might be all that’s needed.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Zachary Smith:
      “I’m afraid I don’t understand this. The “bastard IRBM” is supposed to be what the Russians are afraid of.

      Couldn’t they properly suspect a modern equivalent of the Skunk Works might build some doppelganger missiles with a large nuclear warhead? A bolt-on final stage might be all that’s needed.”

      There are surface-to-air missiles – S-300, THAAD, etc – which could be equally modified with a small nuclear device and RV, and hit Moscow from (at least) Latvia or Estonia. Or SM-3 from a ship in the Gulf of Riga.

      Or cruise missiles launched from aircraft anywhere in the western hemisphere, without booster rockets to give a satellite visible IR signal.

      Or Copenhagen Suborbitals’ sea-launched experimental rockets could have a second and third stage and RV and nuke attached. Or a large sounding rocket out of Norway or the UK.

      If you’re afraid someone could convert a missile like that, and warp your entire disarmament policy around it, you’re dysfunctional. Cruise missiles – or others – in a standard shipping container are a Russian export product. They would never know if one was rolled up to the border in Latvia or Estonia and pointed at them. IRBM missiles could be equally disguised.

      It would be reasonable for Russia to ask, say, for a camera overlooking the silo at each GMD interceptor in Poland, and the right to borescope inspect under the shroud after any shroud maintenance or new missile installs at the field, to verify it’s a exoatmospheric interceptor, and that none had been modified without them noticing. That would ameliorate their particular worry with that missile without requiring its absence. It would not disclose anything we hold secret (photos of the interceptors are public, as are photos of the missile top end without the shroud on and with and without the interceptor mounted). I don’t recall the details of the negotiations, whether that was proposed and shot down, or not proposed, but it solves the problem neatly.

  9. Pavel (History)

    I thought that the Twitter consensus was that there was one missile, Blue Arrow, that had a separable RV, so Russia saw two objects: https://twitter.com/planet4589/status/374998834817945600

    It is quite brave of NYT and you to conclude that the confusion in the Russian state media and on social networks (and indeed in NYT and ACW) suggests that the Russian officials didn’t know what’s happening, but I would point out that there are no signs that there was any confusion in the Russian military. I would say quite the contrary – whatever was there was detected promptly.

    So, I think your take on the incident is off the mark by a very large margin (the decapitating stuff too, but that’s a different conversation).

    • Pavel (History)

      It was Silver Sparrow, not Blue.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Hey, it was Antonov who brought up Black Brant, not me:

      МОСКВА, 3 сен — РИА Новости. Пуски баллистических целей из Средиземного моря могут взорвать регион, заявил журналистам во вторник замминистра обороны России Анатолий Антонов, комментируя произошедший пуск баллистических целей.
      Пентагон

      Пентагон: пуски в Средиземноморье не связаны с операцией в Сирии

      “Обратите внимание, где это происходит, в каком направлении летела эта ракета — она пошла в восточном направлении < …> Средиземноморье — разве есть сегодня какой-то другой регион, более напичканный вооружениями и взрывоопасный < …> Я не до конца понимаю, как сегодня можно играть с оружием, с ракетами в этом регионе”, — сказал Антонов.

      Он напомнил, что запуск метеорологической ракеты Норвегией в 1996 году был воспринят как возможная ракетная атака на Россию.

      Антонов призвал участников пуска быть более ответственными за региональную безопасность и “не играть с огнем”, особо отметив, что одна из стран, участвовавшая в пусках, — постоянный член Совета безопасности ООН. Замминистра также напомнил, что в Средиземном море концентрирована очень мощная группировка Военно-морских сил США, в составе которой есть подводные лодки, способные нести ракеты как в обычном оснащении, так и с ядерными боеголовками.

      “Средиземноморье — это пороховая бочка. Достаточно одной спички — и вспыхнет огонь, причем он может распространиться не только на ближайшие государства, но и подобраться в другие регионы мира. Напомню, что Средиземноморье находится близко к границам Российской Федерации”, — сказал замминистра обороны.

      MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) – Hours after Israel admitted to firing “ballistic targets” that resembled missiles in the Mediterranean, a launch that the country did not priorly announce, Russia’s Defense Ministry spoke out against “playing with arms and missiles” in such a “volatile” region.

      “Is there any other region more volatile and packed with weapons today?” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told journalists. “I don’t completely understand how someone could play with arms and missiles in that region today.”
      Antonov called on those who launched the so-called missile-like targets to be more responsible for regional security and “not play with fire.”

      “The Mediterranean is a powder keg,” he said. “A match is enough for fire to break out and possibly spread not only to neighboring states but to other world regions as well. I remind you that the Mediterranean is close to the borders of the Russian Federation.”

      He recalled that a meteorological rocket launch by Norway in 1995 was mistaken as a possible rocket attack on Russia.

      The two “ballistic targets,” detected by the Russian military on Tuesday, had been launched by the Israeli military as part of a joint US-Israeli test of the Middle Eastern nation’s missile-defense system, an official in Tel Aviv said.
      Russia put its General Staff’s central command center on high alert after the launches, Antonov said.

      The launch was detected at 10:16 a.m. Moscow time (6:16 a.m. GMT) by radar in the southern Russian city of Armavir, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. The objects’ trajectories ran from the central to the eastern Mediterranean, the spokesman said. A diplomatic source in the Syrian capital, Damascus, told RIA that the targets had fallen into the sea.

    • Pavel (History)

      I’m not sure I see where did Antonov say anything about Russian officials’ not knowing what’s going on.

      On the 1995 incident, it has been misinterpreted so many times I don’t think it’s possible to get the record straight (who could argue with Wikipedia?). So, I won’t even try. I’ll just note, however, that the story I’ve been consistently getting was that the early-warning system worked exactly as it was supposed to. In any event, the Russian early warning capabilities were very much okay in 1995 and they are much better today – there are a few new radars online. And there is absolutely nothing to suggest that there was any confusion anywhere this time. Well, maybe at NYT and few other outfits.

  10. Ben D (History)
  11. Cthippo (History)

    One thing I’ve noticed about is that when it comes to arms control the Americans like to talk about numbers and the Soviets / Russians like to talk about systems. Sometimes these differences in focus lead us to end up talking past each other.

    The Russians don’t get too excited about our ICBMs, but they were happy to ban Intermediate range nuclear forces. This makes sense when you remember that US INFs can hit Moscow from western Europe, but Russian INFs can’t hit anywhere important in the US from their prospective basing options (You may remember the whole Cuba thing didn’t work out well). Likewise, the ABM treaty dealt not with numbers, but with a class of systems.

    Here’s an idea that would have a lot to recommend it, but would probably never work politically…

    How about grouping early warning systems of all nations under a separate international organization modeled on the CTBTO? This sort of an organization would tend to increase transparency and security for everyone involved.

    I feel like part of the problem continues to be that many in the US, including many in congress, are unable or unwilling to stretch their minds beyond the concept of “Russia is bad, mmmm-kay?” and try to actually understand Russian fears and motivations. It may be too much for them to grasp the concept that perhaps our security can be enhanced by alleviating the fears of “the enemy”, but I think we have to try.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Cthippo wrote in part:
      “How about grouping early warning systems of all nations under a separate international organization modeled on the CTBTO? This sort of an organization would tend to increase transparency and security for everyone involved.”

      Two concerns from a US perspective –

      One, the US is interested in long range conventional strike, and the solution would need to be able to not send out “THE NUKES ARE COMING!” alerts in case we lit one of those off.

      Two, the best perfect launch and flight detection gear doesn’t change the time issues involved with alerts and government / NCA / C&C survival that Russia is afraid of. They already have decent orbital launch detect, which is working (they detected the Israeli test recently, for example). They need to figure out a combination of geography, technology, and policy solutions that make them less afraid of being decapitated. This would only help one aspect of one of those issues, not any of the rest of the problem.

      Those concerns stated, it would be an international confidence building exercise to start sharing the data streams from detectors, and an international organization with both those and some of its own detectors on GEO Comsats or some such, as secondary payloads, might well be a good idea in the long term. I don’t know that it would hurt the US for it to exist, other than the first concern above (which is more of a implementation detail than fundamental block). We might object to paying for it, but it seems (on quick think) at worst neutral to most likely moderately to very positive for global stability…

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > They need to figure out a combination of geography, technology, and policy solutions that make them less afraid of being decapitated.

      What’s happened to Mts. Yamantau and Kosvinski?

  12. John (History)

    One question: if it was a joint USA/Israel missile launch that sailed over the Med Sea then isn’t the USA obligated by international protocols to have made a prior announcement?

    You know, so that ships could avoid being directly under the flight-path when the whizz-bang whizzed past?

    • j_kies (History)

      Lest we assume excessive capabilities by default; the IAF Arrow program did conform to NOTAMs in my experience. As to sophisticated warning systems, without overcast you could watch an Arrow flyout from Tel Aviv given a clear LOS from your roof (Jaffa is better yet). Who knows, Jeffrey’s picture could have had close similarity to the warning system actually used given a roof-top hot tub.

    • j_kies (History)

      That was too snarky; I am pleased to see the Russian forces reporting that the track was made by their new asset at Amavir. Thats good to see for purposes of Russian confidence in their ability to detect and assess missile / rocket flights and have confidence in the non-threatening nature of such events.

  13. Allen Thomson (History)

    > ” In September 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the Russians had expressed concern that U.S. missile defense interceptors in Europe ‘could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.’”

    DARPA apparently liked the idea, at least for a while:

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/arclight.htm

    http://www.fabioghioni.net/blog/2011/04/11/darpa-halts-high-speed-long-range-weapon-development-program/

  14. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    “The Russians are, I suspect, convinced that they cannot count on being able to command their forces following an attack.”

    If you look at Russian history, this actually makes a lot of sense.

  15. JO (History)

    The air defense probing by Israeli and US ELINT is an ante-up and naturally unwelcome. There may be a tit-for-tat response in the making given the current situation.

    Wars start like this. /sarcasm

  16. Doug (History)

    I fail to see why the Russians are making hostile comments regarding this test flight. Don’t the Russian Defence Ministry and intelligence services read the international defence press? They could have read that the trial of a Silver Sparrow was anticipated.

    The normal flight pattern for the launch of a Sparrow-series target is eastward towards Israel from a launch point over the Mediterranean. The existence of the Silver Sparrow was already known, as was the fact that it was due to make its first test flight some time in the second half of 2013. So the flight should have been easily recognisable for what it was, particularly when the vehicle released its RV and presented two apparent radar targets.

    So what they close to call “playing with arms and missiles” was simply a planned test flight that they should have been expecting to see.

    To answer John’s question about NOTAMs, as the recent North Korean SLV launches have shown, the normal practice is to declare only the splashdown areas where hardware is expected to impact. Countries which test long-range ballistic missiles within their national boundaries will inevitably use trajectories that overfly civilian communities.

  17. Ben D (History)

    Hi Doug, interesting, could you please provide a link to the international defence press release/s that provided information concerning the anticipated Silver Sparrow trials prior to the actual trial.

    Thanks in advance..

  18. Doug Richardson (History)

    I don’t think there was any press release. I had a briefing from Rafael at the Paris Air Show earlier this year, and the details were published soon afterwards by IHS Jane’s.

    • Ben D (History)

      Thanks Doug, but I still don’t see how you can’t understand why Russia expressed displeasure that the test was carried out in the middle of a real threat of a US and allied missile strike on Russia’s ally Syria.

      Besides, as John (September 4) alluded to earlier, there must be some international protocols obliging the appropriate parties to provide a warning to air and shipping traffic prior to such a test. That this was not done itself is evidence that the so called test was more likely meant to provoke the Syrian missile defence systems into activation in order to get elint.

      But most of all, this sort of stunt ran the risk of some misunderstanding/miscalculation by some parties that could have ignited a war prematurely.

    • Ben D (History)

      Fwiw, this on the news today,..Russia reprimands U.S., Israel over missile test launch

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/sep/9/russia-reprimands-us-israel-over-missile-test-laun/

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Alternately, it’s been weeks since the chemical weapons attack, they checked with the US (“Nope, not bombing them today”), and determined that it was not in their national interest to shut down all test flight / test shot activity “for the uncertain duration of the current crisis” which could be months more at this rate.

      I know why Russia is dinging them, but it’s not fair to Israel. Insisting that they not do ANYTHING until this all is resolved damages their very real national security / missile defense problem. They pre-announced a test shot; it does not coincide with an actual attack, is not really near the real potential attack; they took it.

  19. Ben D (History)

    So why is Russia dinging them George?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Ben D:
      So why is Russia dinging them George?

      Either one of or both of:

      1. They failed to read published NOTAMS and were genuinely surprised, or

      2. It’s in their allies’ best interests that Israel be dragged in to all of this.

      I would guess 2 by itself. Syria’s government will hold the country together better if the US attacks moderately, or Israel attacks moderately. An external enemy who all the internal factions agree is an enemy would be uniting.

      Israel is not going to take the bait here, as they under no circumstances want to be pulled in for real. It would take something like active ongoing bombardment of Israel, or a chemical weapons strike on Israeli citizens, for them to react strongly.

      It’s somewhat of a nickel move in a thousand dollar limit game; but Russia and the Syrian governments are worried, and pulling out most of the stops. Bombarding a bunch of their own civilians with Sarin the day the UN inspectors showed up, is not the best of moves. Their strategic judgement is weakening.

    • Ben D (History)

      Thanks. Fwiw, I’m not convinced Assad did the CW attack, but the waters are already quite muddy and from where I sit, one can’t be sure.

      Still I respect your present opinion and for now will continue to monitor the ongoing situation as it unfolds.

  20. Doug Richardson (History)

    Ben D said: “I still don’t see how you can’t understand why Russia expressed displeasure that the test was carried out in the middle of a real threat of a US and allied missile strike on Russia’s ally Syria…”

    Was there a realistic prospect that the launch of a single object towards Israel, and aimed at an off-shore impact point near that country’s coastline could have been mistaken for missile strike against Syria?

    The “warning to air and shipping traffic prior to such a test” that Ben mentions would have taken the form of a NOTAM and a Notice to Mariners. With a major international defence exhibition running in London this week, I have not had the time to do much checking, but at least two Notices to Mariners warning of ‘Navigation danger zones’ in its offshore waters were declared by Israel for early September.

    Given the years for which the IDF has had the Syrian air defences under study, I would doubt the need for a missile test to be mounted in order to gather more elint.

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