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How much difference do Russia’s new nuclear weapons really make?

The missile-gap, which is decidedly in Russia’s favour, is not a new development

Submitted by InfoBrics, authored by Padraig McGrath, political analyst…

Are Russia’s Avangard and Sarmat missiles really the game-changers which they’re depicted to be?

Readers may recall President Putin’s unveiling of these weapons systems on May 1st 2018. His state of the union address to the federal assembly that day could certainly be described as provocative, perhaps inadvisably so. Ever since then, both Russian and western media have discussed at length the numerous reasons why these ICBM’s render all currently existent missile-defence systems obsolete.

First and foremost, these weapons are seen as invulnerable to all currently existent missile defence systems because of their hypersonic capabilities. Avangard can fly at about 33 thousand kilometres per hour, or 27 times the speed of sound. The RS-28 Sarmat can fly in excess of 25 thousand kilometres per hour.

Missile defence systems, fundamentally, work on the basis of the premise that if an interceptor missile can detonate its own nuclear warhead within a 10-kilometre radius of the flight-path of the missile which it is attempting to intercept, then the resulting shock-wave stands a pretty good chance of bringing the target down or otherwise knocking it out of its flight-path. So, in practical terms, “intercepting” a nuclear missile means getting an interceptor to within a 10-kilometre radius of its flight-path.

However, under actual battle-conditions, the chances of intercepting ICBM’s in this way would not be particularly good to start with. Therefore, a more effective missile defence methodology is simply to “intercept” them during their boost phases – that is to say, before they launch. Hit them before they leave the ground.

Both the Avangard and the Sarmat fly far, far too fast for aerial interception to be plausible.

Furthermore, both the Avangard and the Sarmat can be re-maneuvered in mid-flight, making it extremely difficult for missile defence systems to predict their trajectories. In the case of Sarmat, an added problem for currently existent missile defence systems is that it has an extremely short boost phase, making it difficult for spy-satellites to identify the imminent threat in time, and also making it more difficult to track once it has launched.

However, there is one solid counter-argument to the idea that, strategically, these new weapons-systems change everything.

Namely, Russia already had hypersonic ICBM capability 15 years ago. The Topol-M SS27 was and is hypersonic, capable of flying at about 14 thousand kilometres per hour. It’s not quite as fast as the Sarmat or Avangard, but it’s still far too fast for any interceptor to have a realistic chance to getting within the required 10-kilometre radius of its flight-path. Furthermore, the Topol-M SS27 could be re-maneuvered in mid-flight, just as Sarmat and Avangard can, and it releases a multiplicity of different warheads, each with a different trajectory, once it nears its target. Furthermore, the Topol-M SS27 could be launched from the back of a truck, making it almost impossible to pre-empt during its boost-phase.

In short, all of NATO’s currently existent missile defence infrastructure was already obsolete 15 years ago.

Scott Ritter is a former US intelligence officer and weapons inspector who participated in formal inspections-teams at the Votkinsk Machine-Building Plant, where the SS-27 and its predecessor the SS-25 were assembled. In January 2005, he argued that “to counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch… The US cannot afford to spend billions of dollars on a missile-defense system that will never achieve the level of defense envisioned. The Bush administration’s embrace of technology, and rejection of diplomacy, when it comes to arms control, has failed.”

Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration ever did start from scratch. They simply pressed ahead with the installation and deployment of missile defence systems which they knew were already obsolete. The Trump administration adheres to the same obtuse path.

The desire to protect the interests of the US corporations which contract for the Aegis missile defence project is only one of the motivations which drives this policy. In addition, the presence of Aegis missile defence installations in Poland and Romania economically incentivizes local elites within those countries to propagandize their own populations, to amplify fears of the Russian bear at local level, thereby cementing ideological loyalty within the NATO defence-apparatus.

Furthermore, it should be noted that it has never been possible to test any missile defence system under anything even realistically simulating actual battle-conditions. Missile defence systems are tested one shot at a time, which is completely unrealistic. Under actual battle-conditions, they would be required to intercept several dozen ICBM’s in simultaneous flight, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that more than a fraction of the ICBM’s would be successfully intercepted.

Therefore, we can say that the primary strategic purpose of a missile defence installation, as opposed to its economic purpose or ideological purpose, is simply to serve as a pretext for its adjoining radar-installation. Parked so close to Russia’s borders, these installations are elaborate pretexts for electronic espionage or signals-intelligence (SIGINT).

However, the Russian government is playing the same game – both sides have their own reasons for pretending that Sarmat and Avangard are “game-changers,” when in fact we know that the Topol-M SS27 was the real game-changer. While the nations within the western alliance maintain this pretense in order to justify increasingly gargantuan defence-budgets and to propagandize their own populations with Russophobic hysteria, the government of the Russian Federation does so in order to persuade Russia’s population that perpetual geo-strategic threats are being addressed. As with much content published in Russia’s media-space, the disproportionate focus on geo-strategy, external relations and external security issues occurs because these are the spheres in which the Russian government is at its most professionally competent. This disproportionate media-focus, therefore, is devised in order to detract attention from domestic issues wherein the government’s record of effective policy-implementation has not been quite so successful.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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John DoranAmes GilbertDan KuhnTheodrosJames Hunter Recent comment authors
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Sally Snyder
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Sally Snyder

Here is a recent analysis showing the very high human casualties that would result from a nuclear exchange:

https://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-human-cost-of-nuclear-brinksmanship.html

While our elected leaders play games, we are the ones that will pay the ultimate price for their nuclear brinksmanship while they huddle in underground bunkers.

James Hunter
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James Hunter

Their bunkers will protect them only for a limited duration. The safe water sources and/or reserves will last only for a limited time. As for the air, it will be unbreathable, and any filtering system will be safe for a limited time as well. Bombs’ deadly uranium lasts only a few years, while depleted uranium will last hundreds to thousands of years. The more depleted it is, the less it’s destroying itself… Depleted uranium is what’s cooling in nuclear reactors, and what causes a major problem of storage. Some storage areas have been built underground, but in what type of… Read more »

Dan Kuhn
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Hitler`s bunkers in Berlin degenerated into unlivable conditions in short order. The smell of urine and feces permieated the place. The people degenerated into passing their time in drunken parties. If the undisciplined Americans think they can survive for long in what amounts to underground dungeons I have news for them. When Americans first started moving to Alaska after the purchase a common problem was the long artic winter resulting in people going insane from a phenomem called cabin fever. Well these people had spring coming. People living in the nuclear war bunkers will never be able to leave, so… Read more »

John Doran
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John Doran

@ James Hunter.
James, there are molten salt Thorium nuclear power generator designs coming through which will safely use existing nuclear “waste” as fuel.
Storage problems finito.
Look them up on youtube or try nuclear PhD engineer Robert Zubrin’s sobering book Merchants Of Despair.
JD.

Theodros
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Theodros

Scary stuff!

Adrian E.
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Adrian E.

I think it is true that the significance of these hypersonic missiles is sometimes exaggerated. Current missile defense systems are not so effective. Their theoretical purpose, in any case, is not protecting against a first strike (too many missiles would get through), but protecting the attacker against a weaker retaliatory strike of the attacked after a large part of the retaliatory capacity had been destroyed in the massive first strike. Currently, even that would hardly work, but if anti-missile systems were to be improved significantly, which can hardly be excluded, this might have become a more realistic threat. Russian technological… Read more »

Alf Alpha
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Alf Alpha

Perhaps you weren’t paying attention when Russia announced its huge nuclear attack sub fleet. When they begin to launch the US and allies will have no idea where they are coming from, since the launch platforms are submerged and constantly in motion near the adversaries’ borders. There will be no advance preemptive attacks on these mobile submerged launch sites. Then there are the innocent looking cargo container ships which also serve as launch platforms. Just flip the lids on the cargo containers and raise the missiles to launch position The pentagon and state department are well aware of this formidable… Read more »

Dan Kuhn
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The West has no effective missile defence system the evidence is there for all to see with the missile strikes on the American bases in Iraq, ( carried out with impunity even though the Americans were warned in advance) and the attack on the Saudi oil facilities. The Saudis were quick to realize that the Patriot System was nothing but a fraude and immediately took measures to de-escolate with Iran. And this was against Iranian missiles thought to be far inferior to those possessed by Russia and China. In short we were shown , in two inexpensive attacks that the… Read more »

I'm appaled
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I'm appaled

Potemkin Patriots, is that where my tax money went?

I’m also a bad speller: ‘appalled’. 🙁

SteveK9
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SteveK9

Too many errors from the beginning of the article, to make it worth reading.

Ames Gilbert
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Ames Gilbert

Jeez. If the author thinks the ‘boost phase’ is while the missile is on the ground, what value does the rest of the analysis have? The Topal may very well have been a game changer in its time, but the fact that the latest Russian missiles can come in from any direction, including over the south pole, is the game changer here. I live near Beale Air Force Base, in northern California, and the fixed radar installation there faces west, and cannot be changed! There is nothing the U.S. can do in the near and medium term to guard against… Read more »

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