Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Russia vs. America, Take 2

1991: The USSR loses the Cold War, and collapses.
2007: Russia wants to start it all over again.

And you thought Ali-Frazier II was a titanic rematch.

Here's a story that doesn't get near enough play in the news (doesn't involve one missing American out of a few hundred million, I guess). Let me begin with some background info for the less-informed of you out there.

As many people know, the United States is developing a missile defense system to defend against a potential ICBM attack by a rogue state like Iran or North Korea. Sounds like a plan, right? Well, we had to pull out of the ABM Treaty to put missiles into Alaska to cover the North Korean angle, and that made the Russians kinda irate. Of course, we did pull out of the treaty legally, in accordance with Article XV (that's "fifteen"). The Russians were a little distressed, fearing that a massive ABM system buildup could lead to the United States gaining a first-strike capability. They must have forgotten that the Cold War was over and neglected to realize that the prospects of the USA ever raining an ICBM salvo down on Russia are pretty much nonexistant. They also must have forgotten that they violated the treaty back in the 70's and 80's by developing the S-225 mobile ABM system, but that's another story.

Fast forward to present day. North Korea has demonstrated, through a spectacular launch failure, that their rocket scientists are not exactly world-class. What do we do next with the ABM system? We look for other rogue states that are high on the "potential future problems" list. Number one on that list is Iran. So the next logical step was to defend against an Iranian ICBM. So, we have been discussing with Poland the idea of basing an ABM site with 10 missiles inside of Poland, to counter just that sort of threat from the Middle East. Now the Russians get REALLY testy. Why? Because they claim that the ABM system is really aimed at taking out their ICBM strike capability. And that, people, is where the flawed logic comes into play on an epic scale.

Let me start by stating that I will have an MS in Space Warfare in about three months, and that I have a professional knowledge of some of these concepts outside of that, so I am not another random American orating from his posterior. Oracles like that make ME irate. Moving on.

The system in place in Alaska and proposed for Poland is the GMD, or Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It uses a hit-to-kill vehicle to intercept ICBMs (meaning it takes a small object and slams it really fast into the missile, leading to a large explosion) during their midcourse flight stage. This is the bulk of the missile's flightpath, where it is arcing towards the target, mostly outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Now, the GMD system is claimed to have a 3500 mile range. This is likely part of the cause of Russia's irateness. There are Russian SS-19 and SS-25 ICBM sites about 500 miles from the Polish border. Looks like they have a case, right?


First off, consider that a Russian ICBM fired at the United States will travel in a northwesterly direction to come in over Canada and strike its target. This means that any GMD vehicle will have to take out the ICBM with a tail-chase shot. Now, ICBMs travel around 15,000 mph. It's pretty much impossible for the GMD system to detect a launch, get a track established to compute an intercept, and successfully take down an ICBM in a tail-chase engagement due to the massive speeds involved. Yes, Mr. Skeptic, it won't be a PURE tail-chase shot, but the GMD interceptor will have to play catch-up the whole way, and that just isn't going to happen. 1. It's not physically possible for GMD to do that. 2. GMD wasn't designed to do that in the first place, it's designed for a head-on kill shot.

Secondly, the Russians and their fanboys like to state that placing GMD in Poland is obviously intended to take out Russian missiles because it is placed so close to Russian ICBM fields, and because it's just so darn far away from Iran. Wrong again. An Iranian ICBM fired from, say, the missile silos outside of Tabriz at 37 58' 18.66" N 46 10' 40.99" E (plug that into Google Earth!) and targeted on Washington, DC, will fly a distance of around 6,000 miles. And, oh wow, will likely pass within fifty miles of the Polish capital of Warsaw if it's a straight shot, give or take a little for the deviation due to the Earth's rotation. The whole GMD in Poland thing now makes a lot more sense! You can detect a launch, set up a track, and engage with the GMD system in a nice, head-on fashion, even if the Iranian weapon takes a path a few thousand miles off to one side or the other. There went that argument. As for why isn't the system placed closer to Iran, well, you want to give yourself enough time to set up an accurate track to make sure you have optimum parameters for the intercept. Putting this thing in Turkey, for example, means you get to probably deal with the whole tail-chase concept again, which we already know isn't going to work.

So, despite the logic that says otherwise, Russia has decided to view the GMD system being placed in Poland as a threat. Their response? Talk about pulling out of treaties, developing new weapons, and whatnot. They even rebuffed Bush's idea of a joint missile defense system. Looks to me like they're determined to find an enemy to justify increased defense expenditures, but that's just me. At any rate, we're likely going to head down the road to another arms race and potentially another Cold War if cooler heads don't prevail.

Now, opponents also claim that this must be directed towards Russia as Iran has no ICBM capability as of yet. The thing is, they view the United States as a threat, and probably rightfully so. They are continuing to develop longer-ranged missiles, as is their right. If they really want to hit the USA, they need an ICBM, and there is no reason to assume they won't keep going until they get one. In this case, the United States is taking a preemptive defensive action. If Poland goes for it, there is nothing wrong with the idea. Just as Iran has the right to develop weapons, we have the right to defend ourselves. And come on people, be serious for a moment. Waiting until your enemy has a new weapon to decide to defend against it is asinine. Sometimes you have no other choice but to act in that manner. This isn't one of those times, and as such, given the preponderance of evidence that the system won't work against Russian ICBMs and the fact that America has no desire to start a nuclear war with Russia, placing GMD in Poland is the right course of action.


Viktor said...

Hello Sean. Im Viktor from Croatia. I accidently bumpt on you blog and I must admit it excellent and covers my field of interest. Im future mehanical engineer with interest in military stuff.
I read and downloaded what have you wrote about ABM in Poland and all that fuse about it and have few questions.

1. Can GBI interceptors in Alaska join the chase after Russian ICBM lounched over Canada togeather with interceptors from Poland?

2. Can interceptors from Poland shoot down Russian ICBM in boost phase since they are only 500km away from ICBM lounchers?

3. I think Russians are more afraid of what might future GBI lounch sites in Poland turn on because USA is pouring on bilions to make system work and with future increase in interceptor speed and ( dont remember where I read about multiple kill vehicle on a single interceptor) MIRV killer anounced to be developt by 2014 year things could turn out to be bad for the Russians do you agree?

4. One thing you did not mention in your article and I think its worth mentioning.
USA is not about to consult EU about its plans concerning EU protection, its little odd to me. It makes impresion that US is in some hurry. Since Iran still has no balistic missile capable of atacking targets in EU why does USA disscus those issues with EU. Im interested about your opinion, Russian claim Iran is at least 10-20 years from constructing B.M. capable of reaching EU because tehnology level requarible is MUTCH higher than those needed to developt SRBM and some IRBM?

5.Im interested about THAAD system since I could not find any information about its missiles.

6. Do you know missile specs of GBI targets??


Sean O'Connor said...

Hi Viktor, how are things in Croatia? Glad you liked the blog.

On to your inquiries:

1. The interceptors in Poland won't be able to chase down an ICBM from Russia. That being said, the missiles in Alaska should be able to intercept Russian ICBMs coming over the pole. Makes you wonder what Russia's real motivation is here, since they don't seem bothered by the Alaskan site that IS a threat, but are bothered by the Polish site that ISN'T a threat. Perhaps more significantly, the Alaskan site, with 100 missiles, would be able to effectively neutralize the current Chinese ICBM force. That's an aspect that you don't hear a lot about!

2. No. The GMD interceptors need to set up a track, and then attempt a head-on kill shot. That won't work in this case as they'll first have to chase down Russian ICBMs. At those kinds of speeds, that just isn't possible with the GMD weapon.

3. Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal isn't under serious threat by any European-based weapon system. Moreover, they could easily apply depressed trajectories to their SLBM force and make them pretty much unstoppable.

4. The US didn't contact the EU because, frankly, they didn't have to. This is a discussion between the USA and Poland (as well as the Czech Republic and the UK regarding radar systems). As such, there is no reason to get the EU involved in my opinion. Poland doesn't have to ask the EU for permission, do they?

5. Here's some good links about THAAD:

6. Nothing I can give away, sorry!


Viktor said...

Well now that war and corrupt privatization ( whitch caused even more economic damage to Croatia than war) are long over Croatia is gaining its momentum in economy recovery and life standard is improving, in shortly. Thanks for asking.

Still I have few questions in response.

1.Can S-400 system with its 40N6Dm rocket be used to take down GBI/SM-3 or THAAD rockets thus protecting its balistic missile.

2. I have read that Russia is planing to introduce by 2015-2017 year anti-air system of fifth generation whitch will be integrated in whole network protecting all Russia making it some kind of Russia NMD. Now this thing seems to me little overstreched - do you have any information about what that system might be. Something like THAAD or GBI or some combination?

3. You have not said a word about Irans capability to produce ICBM because as I read tehnology level to construct ICBM in opose to SRBM and IRBM is significantly higher whitch would in that case mean that Iran would need atleas decade or two to produce some threat to Eu.

Sean O'Connor said...

Sounds like Croatia is doing pretty well. I always wanted to travel to Eastern Europe personally, I just haven't yet found the time.

On to your questions:

1. First off, it's "48N6DM", which is a further extended-range 300km variant of the 48N6 family (48N6 reaches out to 150km, 48N6D 200km). The big 400km missile is most likely just "40N6", although I have seen 40N6V and 40N6M before. As to whether or not either one could engage a THAAD or GMD missile: maybe the first, definitely not the second. GMD moves too fast and would take an actual ABM to intercept. THAAD, being a terminal weapon, may not move quite as fast during some flight regimes.

2. That would be what is referred to as the S-500 system. The S-500 is the projected S-300/S-400 follow-on using completely new components. Right now the S-400 uses modified S-300PM-1/2 components and incorporates the 40N6 missile into the mix. S-400 may actually have been designated the S-300PM-3 at one point due to the commonality. Also, there is the S-1000, the projected S-300V replacement. Both of these are still on the drawing board though.

3. All you really need to do to make an ICBM is come up with an SLV. That gives you the thrust needed to get intercontinental range, then all you do is modify the software to use a ballistic flightpath to a target instead of into orbit. Iran could go the North Korean route and develop a multi-stage system based on the SCUD or something similar and fly a prototype relatively soon. They are already talking about developing Shahab-4 as a satellite launch vehicle. If they get it to work, they'll be able to build an ICBM with relative ease. Now, the difficult part of developing an ICBM is developing MIRV capability and obtaining accuracy lower than 750-1000 meters CEP. You don't have to do that though. You can always use a big enough warhead in the megaton range and forget about accuracy altogether.

A taxpayer said...

Very interesting Blog and I agree with most of your arguments.
One comment about the Russian viewpoint though: look at a globe and plot US and NATO military installations around Russia. They surround Russia, including several in ex Soviet Republics. Because of them, Russia has every reason to be on the edge. Every time the Soviet Union had an opportunity, real or perceived, to have any military installations near the US, the US reacted aggressively and shed blood over it: Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada, and El Salvador. In light of this, do you really think Russia over reacting over the Slovak and Polish installations?

A taxpayer said...

Here is a map with countries containing US military bases
Since 1991, Russia has bombed attacked no country, has bombed no country, has threatened no country.
I'll let you count the number of countries the US has attacked, invaded, bombed and threatened since 1991. Russia is not the country threatening world peace or wanting to restart the Cold War. The Washington based Defence Industry lobbyist on the other hand.....

Anonymous said...

it's all just a theory, you have got lot of imagination please take into consideration that fact .. that Iran DOESNT HAVE ICBM system.. and such missiles ur talking about here they don't exist and there's no any treat from that side. So the reason of locating usa missilesin East Europe stays unclear..

Anonymous said...

Sean>It's not physically possible for GMD to do that

Wrong for SS-19 launched from the Koselsk or Tatishchevo bases.

Sean O'Connor said...

Towards what? America? Such a weapon wouldn't fly straight over Europe towards Washington D.C. Ergo, the interceptor would be forced into a tail-chase engagement, something it is not designed for and incapable of performing due to the speeds and distances involved.

Anonymous said...

Is not the main issue initially that the proposed Czech radar would be able to surveil all or western Russia with great accuracy? Is this not why they (Russians) are suggesting the azer radar that points the other way?

I'm sure at some point they will be worried about the interceptors, particularily when we get to ver 2 and higher and when we decide to go from 10 to 100. Once there the urge to upgrade will be difficult to thwart.

Sean O'Connor said...

Launch detection systems can already monitor Russian ICBM fields with accuracy so I don't see why that might be an issue. Plus, the array would be oriented towards Iran, not Russia!

They have nothing to worry about the interceptors being placed there, as I explained already they are not capable of tail-chase intercepts or Russian ICBMs heading towards the USA.

Anonymous said...

Sean O'Connor>
Towards what? America? Such a weapon wouldn't fly straight over Europe towards Washington D.C. Ergo, the interceptor would be forced into a tail-chase engagement, something it is not designed for and incapable of performing due to the speeds and distances involved.

OK. Lets talk about it.
Look here:
You can see trajectory
1 to Miami
2 to Minneapolis
3 to Seattle

All boot phases for Koselsk inside GBI range.
Case: GBI version is OBV.
Launch GBI is 45 sec later SS19. Last point of boot phase for SS19 is main engine shutoff. (Verniers continue to burn for 19 seconds after mainstage shutoff.)

Anonymous said...

Sean>It's not physically possible for GMD to do that

Wrong for SS-19 launched from the Koselsk or Tatishchevo bases.

Sean O'Connor>Towards what? America? Such a weapon wouldn't fly straight over Europe towards Washington D.C. Ergo, the interceptor would be forced into a tail-chase engagement, something it is not designed for and incapable of performing due to the speeds and distances involved.

OK. Lets talk about it.
Look here:
You can see traejectory to
1 - Miami
2 - Minneapolis
3 - Seattle

All boot phases for Koselsk inside GBI range.
Case: GBI version is OBV. Launch is 45 sec later SS19. Last point of boot phase for SS19 is main engine shutoff.(Verniers continue to burn for 19 seconds after mainstage shutoff.)