- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

You would think the Cold War never ended. Last week, the Russian press was full of pride and praise for the successful Nov. 1 flight test of a Topol-M strategic missile, which for the first time carried three independently targetable nuclear warheads (MIRVs), and included the test ofa new maneuvering warhead.

Breathless reports from Moscow proclaimed the maneuvering hypersonic warhead is “virtually impossible to destroy” by America’s land-based missile defense. Designed for launch on an SS-27 Topol-M missile from a silo or self-propelled launcher, the “glide warhead” has divert engines that fire in a “chaotic manner” to make it “skip about.” This, say reports, will prevent U.S. missile defenses from shooting it down.

Russian generals who spent decades trying to save the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and opposing U.S. missile defenses now accept those defenses’ deployment, but are trying to neutralize them with mobile missiles and multiple maneuvering warheads. Moscow’s political leaders fund these new strategic weapons to boost national pride and win the support of those who bemoan the loss of empire and national prestige, ignoring the inconvenient fact the U.S. does not intend to attack Russia.

The centerpiece of Moscow’s new strategic force is the off-road mobile SS-27 missile with multiple maneuvering warheads. For several years, Russia has produced single-warhead SS-27s and deployed them in silos. Forty-six have been fielded. The mobile version, harder to find and target, will be deployed beginning next year. A high-acceleration solid-fuel missile, it will be difficult to intercept in the boost phase, and the maneuvering warhead will make it hard to stop thereafter.

The plan is to refit each of the SS-27s in silos with three maneuvering warheads, then put 350 more SS-27s with multiple warheads on mobile launchers to replace the SS-25s being phased out. Multiple maneuvering warheads also will be installed on the new Bulava-30 missiles that will be carried on the new Borey-class missile-firing submarines. And Moscow’s strategic triad will continue as its Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers now carry hypersonic cruise missiles that travel 2,000 miles and strike with great accuracy.

Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov announced last week an increase of 54 billion rubles in the 2006 defense budget, with plans for “new submarines, missile platforms and [nuclear] weapons with multiple warheads.” The high price of oil and natural gas is giving Russia, a major oil and gas exporter, a financial windfall that enables President Vladimir Putin and his generals to promise that Russia will maintain a large and modern nuclear striking force for decades to come.

Much of Moscow’s boast that it can overcome U.S. missile defenses is hype, and this country’s initial land- and sea-based missile defenses will be improved substantially.

Still, those defenses are not designed to stop Russian missiles. The danger is that advanced Russian technologies will find their way to China and other countries likelier to use or threaten to use them. Moscow is selling China modern submarines, destroyers, advanced jet fighters, air-launched missiles, X-band radars and other military hardware.

Russia helped design China’s new Type 094 nuclear-powered missile-firing submarine and is offering to sell China Backfire bombers. In the future, maneuvering warheads and other missile technology also could be sold or stolen. Chinese engineers are said to be very good at reverse-engineering and copying plans for advanced technologies.

A Nov. 2 report in Moscow Gazeta boasted that Russia’s new weapons will be able to overcome America’s missile defenses, noting these new weapons could only be stopped by a layer of space-based interceptors that could strike them before their final phase of flight. That is why, the article says, Moscow keeps pushing a U.N. resolution to ban weapons in space.

The Russians are right in recognizing the importance of weapons in space. The best way to stop a missile launched from an unknown location deep inland — and off-road mobile launchers can go anywhere — is from overhead. When technologies such as rapid ascent rockets and multiple maneuvering warheads spread to China, North Korea and Iran, defenses in space will be urgently needed.

It is not wise to wait until the offense gains too much advantage over the defense. The Pentagon should put more resources at an earlier date into the initial step of designing an architecture for space-based missile defenses, and get on with the developing a weapon that can perform that mission.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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