Russia will test launch a controversial missile over the next several weeks that U.S. officials say is raising new concerns about Moscow’s growing strategic nuclear arsenal and Russia’s potential violations of arms treaties.
The RS-26 missile is expected to be deployed with multiple supersonic, maneuvering warheads designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses in Europe, U.S. officials told Inside the Ring.
A House defense aide said the new missile appears to violate the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, based on recent tests and Russian statements that it is designed to thwart U.S. defenses. The treaty bans missiles with ranges of between 310 and 3,400 miles.
“The Russians are advertising this as a system capable of defeating U.S. missile defenses in Europe,” the aide said. “At the same time, the State Department is accepting Russia’s claim that this is an ICBM and doesn’t violate INF. It can’t be both.”
The Air Force National Space and Missile Intelligence Center reported recently that Russia’s June 6 test of an RS-26 was a test-firing of an intermediate-range missile disguised as an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Russian officials have denied that the RS-26 violates the INF Treaty, claiming it has a range greater than the treaty threshold of 3,410 miles.
However, Moscow officials in recent months have said the INF Treaty must be altered or scrapped to balance China’s growing arsenal of intermediate-range missiles. The Russians also have been quoted in state-controlled press reports as saying the new missile will be used to defeat and destroy U.S. and NATO missile defenses in Europe.
The Obama administration is deploying land- and sea-based defenses in and around Europe to counter Iranian long-range missiles.
Officials familiar with intelligence reports said the next test-firing of the RS-26 is expected in December.
In June, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin described it as a “missile defense killer” after a successful test flight with dummy warheads.
The new missile will be equipped with three multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs. What is new is that the warheads are super-high-speed vehicles capable of maneuvering from missile interceptors. The maneuvering warheads are considered advanced technology that will increase the precision targeting of the missile system.
The missile also reportedly will be equipped with a high-performance fuel that boosts acceleration shortly after launch, a feature useful for avoiding anti-missile interceptors.
The U.S. officials commented on the missile development after Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported Oct. 3 that the next RS-26 test will be conducted before the end of the year from the Kapustin Yar test range.
The new missile is raising questions under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The treaty does not prohibit modernizing strategic weapons but allows each side “to question” whether a new type of strategic arm is being developed.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damienn Pickert declined to comment on the RS-26, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters.
“Our ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities currently protect the U.S. homeland against a limited ICBM attack,” Col. Pickert said. “U.S. BMD systems remain focused on defending from ballistic missile threats like those posed by North Korea and Iran. They are not directed at Russia. We remain confident in the ability of our BMD capabilities to defend the United States and its allies against this growing threat.
The RS-26 will add to Russia’s formidable and growing arsenal, which includes SS-27 and SS-29 road-mobile, solid-fuel missiles; a new submarine-launched nuclear missile called Bulava; and plans for a new silo-based ICBM. Russia also announced plans to build rail-mobile ICBMs that were deployed during the Soviet-era and later dismantled.
Under the 2010 U.S.-Russia New START, both countries are to reduce deployed strategic warheads to 1,550. The treaty, however, does not prohibit Russia’s development and deployment of new strategic missile systems and weapons.
The strategic nuclear buildup is Moscow’s response to U.S. missile defenses, which Russia opposes as threatening its strategic nuclear forces.
The Obama administration has said U.S. missile defenses would not be used against Russian or Chinese nuclear missiles, although both nations have rejected the U.S. claims.
Russian government procurement documents provided the first official confirmation of the RS-26 on Sept. 23 when discussing insurance liability for related to test launches, Russia’s Vedomosti news outlet reported Oct. 1.
A Russian defense official told Interfax this week that the RS-26 “is fitted with advanced warheads that travel at supersonic speeds and are able to perform altitude and course maneuvers.”
LIMITATIONS IN SPACE
China’s military issued an unusually harsh denunciation of Rep. Frank R. Wolf over his sponsoring of legislation that would restrict U.S.-China space cooperation.
Mr. Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, wrote an open letter to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. last week that described the agency’s Ames Research Center as “a rat’s nest of inappropriate and possibly illegal activities.”
The congressman was critical of the NASA center for what he said were inaccurate comments that appeared in a British newspaper about restrictions on U.S.-China space cooperation.
Mr. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said China is deserving of criticism for its human rights abuses, espionage and cyberattacks, and growing space warfare capabilities, including the recent test of a satellite that captured another satellite with a robotic arm.
In response, PLA Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese military, reported Oct. 11 that NASA’s blocking of Chinese scientists to an international astronomy conference resulted from anti-communist fervor.
“In his open letter to Bolden, Wolf, as usual, continued to violently slander China for the so-called theft of military and commercial secrets, and alleged that China would be provided with more opportunities for stealing secrets from the U.S. if the two countries seek cooperation in spaceflight,” the newspaper stated.
The Chinese accused Mr. Wolf of being part of a group that has “long been clinging to the Cold War mentality and prejudiced against China.” The paper then said China and the U.S. are important “space powers,” and noted the use by U.S. astronauts of a Chinese space station in the new Hollywood movie “Gravity.”
China is seeking greater access to U.S. technology, including space know-how, but has been blocked because Beijing’s space program is run by its military, which is developing high-technology space warfare capabilities, including missiles, killer satellites and lasers.
ISRAELI STRIKE COMING?
Talks in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program are triggering fears within U.S. intelligence agencies that Israel is hardening its stance on Iran and could conduct a military attack to stave off what the Jewish state believes is a delaying tactic for Tehran to buy time to build nuclear weapons.
The clearest indicator of growing Israeli concerns, according to defense officials, is the recent large-scale Israeli air force drill Tuesday in the northern part of the country. The exercises along the northern border and over the Mediterranean were considered unusually large.
An Israeli defense source told Israel’s Walla! news outlet: “Changes have recently occurred in the Middle East. The [Israeli Defense Force] is preparing for those changes in both the closer and more distant perimeters, and yesterday’s exercise was intended to signal the IDF’s serious intention of dealing with those problems and thwarting them.”
Additionally, Israeli air forces conducted long-range fighter exercises last week involving in-flight refueling practice.
The talks in Geneva have produced press reports that the Obama administration is preparing to ease sanctions on Iran following conciliatory statements by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. last month.
Israeli Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Wednesday that Israel would welcome an agreement to end Iran’s nuclear arms program. But Israel remains concerned that “Geneva 2013 could become Munich 1938,” Mr. Steinitz said, referring to the agreement appeasing Nazi Germany’s seizure of Czech territory in the months before the outbreak of World War II.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at @BillGertz.