Last week in his annual “State of the Union Message” and in the context of his campaign for another six-year term, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in explicit language signaled his interest in pursuing a new cold war competition as illustrated by two articles worth your time to peruse.
A March 1, 2018, Associated Press article by Vladimir Isachenkov and a Washington Free Beacon article by Bill Gertz summarized several important claims by Putin, including (in my chosen order):
— Russia is developing new weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone, and new hypersonic missiles that have no equivalent elsewhere in the world. (Whether all this is true is at least debatable — but the claims are notable. Especially since some of his claims include new nuclear weapon systems to attack the United States.)
— Lest his point be missed, he showed videos modeling his claimed new maneuvering intercontinental range cruise missile — including a video simulating a nuclear strike on the United States.
— He claimed Russia was developing a “low-flying, low-visibility cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead and possessing a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path; and the capability to impregnate practically all interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future anti-missile and air defense weapons."
— Putin also highlighted other new Russian nuclear weapon systems, including a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called Sarmat, or RS-28. (This is a rebirth of the Soviet SS-18 “Satan” that carried 10 reentry vehicles (RVs), a focus in now expired Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) Treaties. Sarmat is again paving the way for destabilizing MIRVed ICBMs.)
— Moreover, he said Sarmats/RS-28s could reach U.S. territory by flying over the South Pole, in trajectories designed to frustrate U.S. missile sensors and defenses, including U.S. interceptors based in Alaska. (This development would be a rebirth of the 1960s Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), and signals to rogue states — i.e., North Korea and Iran — how to attack the U.S. via their demonstrated satellite launches over the South Polar regions.)
— Putin boasted that U.S. efforts over the past 15 years “have failed to contain Russia,” and that these new Russian weapons will make NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense “useless,” an effective end to Western efforts to stymie Russia’s development.
Whatever were Putin’s objectives in his speech — e.g., to focus interest on his claims to protect the Russian people (given Russia’s current economic problems); to send some threatening message to U.S. leaders and our allies; and/or some combination thereof — several observations seem pertinent to me as I recall the Soviet/Russian past I have witnessed.
First, Putin’s bellicosity reminds me of Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 claim that, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury (or outlast) you.” No surprise that Putin is a good communist who remembers his KGB training and is now bragging that Russia’s new weapons show that Moscow has rebounded from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Next, hypersonic threats are a real concern — whether from an all-atmospheric delivery system or from other delivery systems including from an ICBM-delivered maneuvering reentry vehicle (MARV) that seeks to out-maneuver our ballistic missile defense capabilities. Our defenses must be prepared to deal with this well-known potential threat — and meeting this goal should be given high priority by the Trump administration’s missile defense programs.
Third, highly Mirved ICBMs have long been recognized as a serious threat and source of strategic instability. Limiting and preferably banning them was an objective of the START negotiations with which I was closely associated during the Reagan and Bush-41 era, but that goal has never been totally achieved. And now Putin is retreating from earlier more stabilizing positions to again emphasizing Mirved ICBMs, especially with the Sarmat/SS-28.
During the era of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), developing capabilities to counter such a threat was the focus on space-based defenses that could intercept such ballistic missiles in their boost-phase before they could release multiple RVs and/or associated decoys and other countermeasures. Space-based defenses can also be designed to counter the hypersonic threat.
From my up close and personal experience for five years in defending SDI in our negotiations with the Soviets, I can witness that we got enormous negotiating leverage from President Reagan’s SDI commitment, especially when he walked out of the Reykjavik Summit because Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev demanded that our space-based defenses R&D be limited to the laboratory.
That leverage led to the first arms control agreements in history actually to reduce nuclear weapons, while we continued our SDI efforts. If we repeat that commitment again while modernizing our offensive strategic forces (per the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review) — repeating President Reagan’s Strategic Modernization Program, I believe we can again convince Putin to reverse course.
So . . . it is time to go back to the future! And Congress set that stage for key supportive actions by the Pentagon’s ongoing Missile Defense Review (MDR) in response to two provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 (NDAA-2018).
Section 1685 directs that, if consistent with the MDR directions or recommendations, “the Secretary of Defense should rapidly develop and demonstrate a boost-phase intercept capability for missile defense as soon as practicable,” with a focus on demonstrations with existing technology to counter emerging threats in the Asia Pacific region — to be deployed as soon as practicable in conjunction with plans to deploy a supportive space-based sensor layer.
Section 1688 directs that, if consistent with MDR direction or recommendations, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director “shall develop a space-based ballistic missile intercept layer” — a regionally focused boost-phase defense that achieves an operational capability at the earliest practicable time. To advance this objective, Section 1688 also calls for a SPACE TEST BED to conduct research and development regarding options for space-based interceptors and directed energy platforms; and to identify the most cost-efficient and promising technological solutions to implementing such layer.
Both sections call for appropriate plans, including recommended budgets, to be recommended to Congress for funding in fiscal year 2019.
Over to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review! And a diplomatic strategy with Russia like that pursued by President Reagan.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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