Following the formal collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, on February 2, Moscow has ordered the Russian defense industry to create a ground-based version of the Kalibr cruise missile complex. The family of Kalibr sea- and air-launched cruise missiles (SLCM, ALCM), has seen extensive use during Russia’s military operations in Syria, using naval and air platforms against enemy targets (Life.ru, February 7). The future ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) Kalibr variant will supplement addition to plans to develop a new, longer-range SLCM (see EDM, January 22). These developments are consistent with growing interest in populating Russia’s conventional Armed Forces with high-precision strike systems to boost military capability and add depth and credibility to Moscow’s doctrine of “pre-nuclear” or “non-nuclear” deterrence as well as adjusting to the post-INF strategic environment.
Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu made the announcement concerning the GLCM Kalibr on February 5, in Moscow, during a meeting of the National State Defense Management Center (Natsionalnyy Tsentr Upravleniya Oboronoy— NTsUO). Shoigu justified this in terms of Washington formally suspending its participation in the INF Treaty on February 2, and its work to develop land-based missiles with ranges in excess of 500 kilometers. In recent years, Moscow and Washington frequently traded accusations of treaty violations by the other party. “During 2019–2020, we need to develop a land-based version of the sea-based Kalibr complex with a long-range cruise missile that has proven itself in Syria,” Shoigu asserted in an NTsUO conference call (Vm.ru, February 5). Shoigu also made clear that President Putin ordered the new Kalibr GLCM as a retaliatory measure against US military initiatives tied to breaching and finally suspending the INF Treaty.
Although Shoigu referred to the creation of the new cruise missile complex in the period 2019–2020, sources in the defense ministry believe it could be ready by the end of the year. An anonymous defense industry source told TASS, “The ground-based Kalibr missile system with an appropriate cruise missile can be created and prepared for mass production by the end of this year.” This can apparently be achieved by making adjustments to the 3M-14 SLCM version of the Kalibr. These modifications seem to be linked to the guidance control systems and software for the Kalibr SLCM (Izvestia, 360tv.ru, February 7).
Although there has been no public confirmation as to the future locations of the new Kalibr GLCM, it is highly likely that some of these will be based close to the territory of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and with extended strike range to exploit the collapse of the INF Treaty. They will, therefore, enter service in the Missile and Artillery Troops (Raketnyye Voyska i Artilleriya—RV&A), which is a branch of arms in the Ground Forces (see EDM, June 20, 2017). According to Moscow’s existing defense plans, the RV&A will complete the process of replacing the older Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile system with the Iskander-M by 2020; this will mean that all the RV&A brigades will be equipped with the dual-capable Iskander-M. This weapons system is already located in Kaliningrad. The Iskander-M is, therefore, the most likely launching complex for the new Kalibr GLCM, which will have much of continental Europe within its strike range.
Indeed, Washington’s primary accusation against Moscow in its violation of the INF related to the Iskander-M complex and its capacity to launch the 9M729 cruise missile with a range well exceeding the permitted 500 km. According to Russian military expert Dmitry Kornev, the Iskander-M launcher for the 9M279 missiles would allow the deployment of the modified Kalibr cruise missiles. The launcher for the 9M279 missiles was shown at a defense ministry briefing on January 23, and Kornev argues this would be suited to the long SLCM Kalibr-3M-14. In his view, the process of creating the Kalibr GLCM will not prove to be technically difficult since the Kalibr 3M-14 and the existing cruise missiles for the Iskander-M have the same developer. “It is very likely that the same technical solutions are used in both naval and land missiles from Novator: the design features of the missiles, the engines, the same missile control system, finally the same combat units and the missile aiming system before launch,” Kornev explained (Lenta.ru, February 8).
Shoigu instructed Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko to commence the appropriate development work on the new cruise missile complex. He expressed confidence that this can be achieved rapidly by relocating funds for the State Defense Order from the financial plans for 2020–2021. Shoigu also spoke about saving time in the development phase of the new Kalibr by basing it upon existing systems. The defense ministry, therefore, expects that mass production will begin within the next twelve months. Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that it would take around one year to develop new weapons (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, February 5).
If the Kalibr 3M-14 forms the basis of the ground-based variant, then it is worth noting some aspects of its strike range. The Kalibr 3M-14 is fitted with a conventional warhead of 450–500 kilograms and has a range of approximately 1,500 km. It has been used against targets in Syria at distances of up 1,300 km. However, the future Kalibr-M SLCM currently in development will extend the range to 4,500 km, in line with Putin’s claims concerning hypersonic “super weapons” to breach enemy missile defenses (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, January 18). While the precise range of the ground-based Kalibr is unknown, it is clear that it will be well in excess of 500 km.
The announcement of a new Kalibr cruise missile complex for the Russian Ground Forces has been packaged as a response to Washington withdrawing from the INF Treaty. Yet, the defense ministry’s plans to markedly boost the quantity and quality of high-precision strike systems in the conventional inventory are already well established. This forms part of a drive to adopt Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, in turn boosting stand-off strike and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) options. The reequipping of the missile brigades in the Ground Forces with the Iskander-M system is part of this process and ties into adding an additional layer of deterrence. It is likely that further modifications to existing cruise missile systems, to further extend both the available system types and their ranges will follow this pattern. Moscow consistently claims that it wants to avoid an arms race; yet, these plans appear to carry precisely such a risk.