The development of Russia’s new long-range precision-guided weapons strongly supports the notion that the country’s leadership has been placing greater emphasis on non-nuclear strategic military deterrence.
Kinetic offensive conventional strategic-deterrence capabilities typically include long-range precision-strike weapons against land/sea targets. Kinetic defensive conventional strategic-deterrence capabilities include aerospace defence systems; these include air and missile defence, which could also function offensively, as in the case of anti-satellite capabilities. Electronic warfare capabilities and directed-energy weapons span offensive and defensive uses. These systems are well publicized and include the following:
- Iskander-M: The Iskander family of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, the first to enter service and now in widespread use. The 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone) is a ground-mobile short-range (though possibly longer-range) missile system that was reportedly first used in combat during the 2008 war with Georgia. It is dual-capable, conventional/nuclear. The range of its 9M723 ballistic missile is officially put at up to 500 km, but is in practice uncertain, and could possibly be longer. Alternatively, the Iskander can carry a cruise missile, 9M728 (SSC-7 and R-500 among its several designations). The US government also assesses that Russia – in violation of the now defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – has developed and deployed a longer-range dual-capable ground-launched cruise missile, identified as the 9M729 (SSC-8 Screwdriver) with a range of 2,500 km. Other range estimates are even greater.
- Kalibr-NK/-PL: The Kalibr family of naval cruise missiles, ship-borne (‘NK’) and submarine-launched (‘PL’). In addition to its anti-ship (3M54) and anti-submarine (91R) cruise missile versions (SS-N-27 Sizzler), the family includes a land attack cruise missile (LACM). The Kalibr design is also dual-capable. The conventionally armed 3M14 Kalibr LACM (SS-N-30) has been used operationally against targets in Syria. Whereas the range of the anti-ship SS-N-27 is comparatively short at 220 to 300 km, the range of the SS-N-30 LACM is put at up to 2,500 km. Work is reportedly in progress on a new variant, the Kalibr-M cruise missile, with a range of 4,500 km. Ostensibly in response to the US decision to terminate the INF Treaty, work to develop a ground-launched version of the Kalibr has also begun.
- Kh-101/Kh-102: A family of dual-capable air-launched cruise missiles (Kh-101/-102/AS-23A/B Kodiak). These are ‘stealth’ precision-guided subsonic missiles with a low radar cross-section (reportedly 0.01 square metres), also designed to fly at terrain-hugging low altitudes to complicate detection with radar. The Kh-101/AS-23A is conventional and has been used against targets in Syria. The Kh-102/AS-23B is nuclear. Estimates for its range vary between 2,500 km and 5,500 km.
- Kinzhal [Dagger] 9-S-7760: An air-launched hypersonic or semi-hypersonic ballistic missile with a claimed range of 1,500–2,000 km, fielded on a modernized supersonic MiG-31 fighter-interceptor (collectively the 9-A-7660 system). The Kinzhal can be used against targets on land and at sea; it can be nuclear- or conventionally armed; and, though not sustainably hypersonic, it can reach hypersonic speeds. It is claimed to be highly manoeuvrable, with stealth characteristics. It is assumed that the Kinzhal is a variant of the Iskander-M system’s 9M723 ballistic missile.
- Tsirkon [Zircon] 3M22: A dual-capable hypersonic cruise missile with a claimed range of up to 1,000 km, test-fired on several occasions in late 2020 and again in July 2021 from the lead Gorshkov-class (Project 22350) guided-missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, reportedly against practice targets at sea and on land but to less than half its maximum range. If the project proves successful, it is likely also capable of being launched from submarines.
- Various other dual-capable, conventional or directed-energy systems which range from anti-access/area denial capabilities, including air defence (S-300 Favorit, S-350 Vityaz, S-400 Triumf and future S-500 Prometey) and coastal defence (Bal/Bastion) missile systems, to missile defence interceptor systems with anti-satellite capability, and to the Peresvet laser with comparable capability, as has been claimed.
- Electronic warfare (EW) systems that include a wide variety of systems such as the tactical Borisoglebsk-2, designed to jam radio and satellite communications and navigation in the HF/VHF/UHF spectrum; the Palantin ground-mobile system designed to suppress communications and reconnaissance at the ‘operational-tactical’ level that can also be used to network the operation of other EW systems; the ‘strategic’ Murmansk-BN system designed to suppress high-frequency signals over a wide area (reportedly hundreds of square kilometres); and the Krasukha family of EW systems intended to suppress airborne and space-based radar systems (Krasukha-2O and Krasukha-4S). Aerial EW platforms include the Khibiny pod, a self-protection system developed in parallel with the Sukhoi Su-34 (Fullback) multi-role fighter-bomber; and the Ilyushin Il-22PP Porubshchik (‘Lumberjack’) which, though based on the old four-turboprop Ilyushin Il-18 (Coot) airframe and of which there are just three in service, is designed to jam the radars of airborne early-warning aircraft, air defence missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Other potential non-nuclear strategic deterrent systems include: current systems such as the Kh-555, a conventionally armed variant of the Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missile, and the Kh-32, a 1,000-km-range development of the Kh-22 (AS-4 Kitchen) air-launched anti-ship missile, both variants dual-capable, conventional/nuclear; other air-launched, seaborne and ground-launched missiles; and future developments, such as an air-launched hypersonic missile code-named Gremlin (also known as GZUR – the Russian contraction for Hypersonic Guided Missile) and a new ground-forces hypersonic surface-to-surface missile named Hermes or Klevok-D2, described as an ‘Iskander-junior’, though both of these are likely to be shorter-range missiles.
All the missile systems listed above are – as applied to this category – long-range precision-strike weapons, abbreviated in Russian as VTO-BD (vysokotochnoye oruzhiye bol’shoy dal’nosti). All are supported by improved general-purpose-forces defensive and offensive arms, encompassing armour (including tanks), artillery (including rocket artillery), combat aircraft, fighting ships, other missile systems and other systems. They collectively augment the deterrent effect of Russia’s nuclear forces.