Foreign Policy Blogs

Russia’s ‘Invincible’ New Hypersonic Weapons

In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, Russia’s new Sarmat intercontinental missile is shown at an undisclosed location in Russia. RU-RTR Russian Television via AP

Russia had a bigly moment recently when announcing their new invincible weapons systems that use new nuclear propulsion systems and travel at hypersonic speeds. The claim that these weapons are unable to be intercepted by modern air defense systems could likely be true. Beyond the testing of American THAAD interceptor systems, there are no extremely reliable anti-air systems in the US or NATO arsenal that would give anyone much confidence in preventing a ballistic missile strike. The THAAD and tests to upgrade and perfect its system capabilities are ongoing, and while they have been deployed to counter a possible North Korean missile threat, it is unclear if they would able to stop even lower grade North Korean ballistic threats when multiple warheads are involved.

The tradition of anti-air missiles often was linked with Soviet programs that arose from a generation that had suffered invasion during the Second World War. Defense of life and society during Russia’s Great Patriotic War produced a skeptical outlook on foreign interference in Russia and a dedicated defense strategy during the years of the Cold War. Even today, Moscow is ringed by an Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) system to counter any ballistic missile threats coming from abroad, and it is most likely the case that their Anti-Ballistic Missile defense ring is fairly effective. From the infamous SA-2 SAM that punished American planes over Vietnam, to the SA-6 that changed strategies during Middle Eastern wars, Soviet and Russian air defense has a long tradition of producing viable missile shields against airborne threats. The motivation for these generations of programs is the belief that invasion is a possibility in the future as it was in the past. Out of necessity, they had to be effective.

The need for reliable defense likely motivated the production of effective Israeli systems like Iron Dome and the new Arrow system, but the added element of maintaining a low conflict scenario also contributed greatly to the political aspects of Iron Dome. When there is an immediate and impossible threat, the ability to stop aggression via missile strikes gives a great deal of breathing room to policy makers who do not want to escalate a conflict past the point of no return. A huge motivation for increased anti-air missile tests does not come solely from Russia’s recent announcement, but allows for the capability of extending a cooling off period in tense situations when there are little to no causalities due to an effective defense structure. While having Sarmat nuclear missiles may place Russia in a better position to strike US targets first, the US will be able to develop similar systems fairly rapidly. What might serve a skeptical Russian side and a nervous American side best is the ability to shoot down missile threats effectively, giving space for political negotiations where negotiations are the only way to achieve a lasting peace.

 

Author

Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration

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