Russian Military Searches for Asymmetrical Responses to BMD

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 139

Sineva missile test firing.

On July 13 during a visit to Sochi the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed a successful live training launch of a strategic missile. He told Russian sailors that "the goal was achieved, and the missile’s parts fell in the planned location." Although many Russian media sources reported that this might be linked to the ongoing testing of the new sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) "Bulava," which has experienced setbacks during its testing, the launch Medvedev boasted about appears to relate to the older Sineva missile. On July 17 the MoD reported that the latest testing of the Bulava had failed the previous day, with the missile self-destructing after 28 seconds during its first stage (ITAR-TASS, Channel One TV, July 13; Interfax,, July 17).

The Sineva missile complex, developed by the Makeyev Design Bureau State Missile Center in Chelyabinsk Oblast was commissioned into the navy in 2007. The RSM-54 Sineva (NATO classification SSN-23 Skiff) is a third-generation liquid fuel intercontinental missile weighing 40.3 tons, 14.8 meters in length with a reported range of 8,300 km. It carries four individually-targetable warheads. On September 9, 2006, the strategic nuclear submarine Yekaterinburg, conducted a Sineva launch from a range located in Arkhangelsk Oblast. All warheads successfully destroyed their targets. In October 2008, another Sineva launch tested its maximum range. This system combined with other complexes in the navy’s inventory is part of the foundation of Russia’s naval strategic nuclear forces, which will remain in service until 2030. According to the press service of Roskosmos (the Russian Space Agency) the Sineva launches from submarines in the Northern Fleet on July 13-14 were conducted as part of a program to extend the service life of the system (, Interfax, July 15).

On July 15, sources within the Russian MoD said that two missile launches, using a flattened trajectory, were conducted by submarines the previous day. In particular, they alleged that U.S. and NATO intelligence were "surprised," not by the launches but that they were unable to determine the source of their launch. "The American missile defense system of course detected the missile launches themselves, but the area from which the launches were conducted was completely unexpected for them," the source said. Reportedly, attack submarines from the Northern Fleet arrived in the Arctic Circle, closed the area to tracking, and from beneath the pack-ice two Delta IV submarines conducted launches. "In its turn, the U.S. space detection equipment, as an element of the missile defense system, cannot track the presence of submarines under the Arctic ice," the source claimed. The deployment of submarines in this area, and the apparent absence of sufficient operational information, reduces the time it takes to reach a target and until the launch it is effectively invisible to tracking systems (RIA Novosti, July 15).

Mixed signals and the inability to fulfill ambitious plans were also evident in the Black Sea Fleet. Plans to build a naval base in Novorossiysk might not signal that Moscow intends withdrawing the Russian navy from Sevastopol, according to Admiral Igor Kasatonov, the navy’s former first deputy commander-in-chief: "The fact that President Medvedev came to see progress on the construction of the Novorossiysk naval base means that the country’s leadership attaches great importance to the problems of deployment of the Black Sea Fleet. But I do not think that the construction of the (Novorossiysk) base means that it will move from Sevastopol." On July 14 he said that although the military will reinforce the position of the navy in the Caucasus it will not "abandon" Crimea or its western Black Sea interests (Interfax, July 14).

Issues surrounding the construction of naval facilities at Novorossiysk are possible to resolve by constructing adequate coastal infrastructure. However, it is estimated that this will cost around 10 billion rubles ($315 million) and thus far only 2.2 billion rubles ($69 million) has been allocated. This might change after the Sochi winter Olympics, allowing more specialists to be relocated to focus on Novorossiysk. Admiral Ivan Kapitanets, a former inspector within the MoD, believes this should be supported by developing a program for constructing more warships. He noted that between 1946 and 1986 the Soviet Union had carried out four 10-year shipbuilding programs: "As a result, an ocean-going nuclear missile navy was created. But for more than 20 years now all that has been happening is the writing-off of old ships on a large scale," Kapitanets said (Interfax, July 14).

On July 2, Medvedev said that developing a "fighting core" of the Russian navy by 2020 is one of the key tasks facing the country. "The fulfilment of one of the key tasks which our country is facing now depends on the way we work, including here at the Sevmash enterprise. The task is to complete the building of the fighting core of Russian naval forces by 2020," he said. Medvedev demanded more focus on developing new military technologies. "The most important thing is, of course, to concentrate our efforts on modern technologies today, which should be competitive, which should be viewed as quite modern, and should be in demand in the world," he said (Zvezda TV, July 2).

A state order for a series of corvettes placed with the United Industrial Corporation’s shipyards signals a departure from Soviet era designs. The Steregushchy, which has been completed, will be augmented by the Storozhevoi, Soobrazitelny, Boiky and Stoiky corvettes. These feature stealth technologies and a high automation of control and firing systems, which allows a reduction in the crew numbers. The Steregushchy is equipped with modern Russian weapons. Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the commander-in-chief of the Russian navy believes that corvettes of the Steregushchy type will form the basis of the navy until 2030 (Izvestia, July 3).

In the aftermath of the Obama-Medvedev summit in Moscow, the Russian president said on July 10 that his threat to deploy Iskander (SS-26) missiles in Kaliningrad in response to any future elements of BMD being located in Eastern Europe has not been rescinded. It appears that despite ongoing bilateral nuclear arms reduction talks, Moscow is actively pursuing asymmetrical responses to BMD.