Thursday, November 6, 2008

Russian Missiles are Offensive

Is Joe Biden going to be proved right about challenges to the new administration before Obama even unpacks his stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue?

Peeved by NATO expansion, Russia is deploying Iskander (SS-26) missiles and some electronic jamming equipment to Kaliningrad. If you are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Kaliningrad -- an unremarkable collection of depressing post-Soviet cities and miserable peasants -- it's a bit of land on the Baltic sea squashed between Poland and Lithuania unconnected at any point to Russia. A little island of Russia in a vast sea of Poland. And Lithuania.

Russian President Medvedev says the missiles, which have a range of about 175 miles and deliver a 480kg warhead are there to "to neutralize, if necessary, a missile defense system."

The US has promised Poland Patriot missiles, one battery of which (about 100 troops and up to 8 individual launchers) should arrive some time in 2009.

It sounds like the SS-26 is a good choice to counter the Patriots, assuming the Rooskies can get it to go "boom" reliably. A few years ago, I would have said that the Russian equipment was poorly maintained garbage manned by unmotivated, badly trained conscripts.

But several years of the oil boom have sent a lot of cash the Kremlin's way, and so now I'm not so sure. Money fixes a lot of problems. (And also, I'm not actually a military analyst anyway.)

The Russians claim that SS-26 is highly mobile and can set up and fire and move again very quickly. I suppose that makes it hard to track down and blow into scrap, although I bet a Predator drone with a Hellfire missile in it would ruin the crew's whole day. But I digress. The Russians also say it has an improved guidance system over the SCUD which is key since 480kg is apparently a pretty small warhead.

Reports by an Israeli newspaper that I have not bothered to confirm (cause it sounds more ominous this way) say that the Russians are sending the the same SS-26s to Syria, where they will probably annoy the Israelis even more than the Iskanders in Kaliningrad annoy us.


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