December 18, 2007

Verba, Kaktus, Krot and the fly

MOSCOW. (18/ 12/ 2007 RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov) - "The issue of confrontation with Russia, especially direct confrontation, is still, unfortunately, kept alive by our Pentagon partners," General of the Army Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia's Chief of the General Staff, said in a RIA Novosti interview in mid-December.

It all revolves around American plans to deploy a missile defense system, he said, "which Russia regards as a global strategic one."

Baluyevsky fears that, included in the American nuclear triad, such a system could boost America's early warning potential and, as a result, upset the strategic balance between the two countries.

But the available evidence suggests that the Russian nuclear deterrent has nothing to fear from the latest advances in anti-missile technology, or rather will have nothing to fear in the near future.

Russia laid the ground for its dominance in this field several decades ago, when it first developed its strategic nuclear weapons. A current program to build a modern missile defense shield, coupled with traditional counter-measures, will give Russia an effective and adequate response to overseas anti-missile programs.

In the middle of December, Russia's Air Force officially announced it was developing a fifth generation missile defense system capable of "repulsing attacks from space." This suggests Russia has opted for so-called AM point defense, able to protect particular regions or targets as required. The use of the territorial principle in combination with point configuration will help to establish a credible nation-wide anti-missile complex.

The Soviet Union and Russia, as its successor, remain the only states ever to create an effective missile defense shield.

In 1954, the Soviet Union launched a massive effort to develop a missile defense system.

By that time the KB-1, set up on Stalin's orders, had deployed a practically impenetrable air defense system around Moscow. The system, which came to be known as S-25, was designed to repulse a converging attack three times the size of British and American raid that wiped out Dresden.

Grigory Kisunko was put in charge of the project. The task was daunting. Three years before the team's first success in intercepting the nose cone of a ballistic missile in the spring of 1961, a top-level decision was made to develop a full-scale anti-missile shield for the Moscow region, called A-35.

Well before A-35 had even been tested, the goal posts were moved again, and the researchers were set the task of covering the entire country. The upshot was that the system, although "crude", was finally put in service only in the summer of 1971.

Perhaps it was the rushed nature of the job and the blurred understanding of the missile defense program that shifted the focus to helping attacking missiles overcome enemy defenses. Eventually, this enabled Russia to become the world leader in that field.

After missile defense tests in 1961, when the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said bluffingly that "our missile can hit a fly in space," Kisunko decided to push research into low-cost penetration aids. These were a radar absorbing coating for nose cones, false decoys, and active jammers.

The first was called Kaktus and resembled an envelope consisting of several semi-conducting films or a cactus-like, spiked structure. Such a coating applied to the nose cone of a missile reduced its radar signature many times over.

Verba-type inflated decoys were clusters of packaged chaff made from synthetic metallic film, which were jettisoned in space. The chaff was then inflated by the air remaining in the packaging.

The active jammer Krot was designed to generate noise in response to each probing pulse of a hostile radar. Stations have been developed and tested that can jam either early warning radars or missile firing radars.

These methods are still widely employed by Russia's strategic missile forces, which marked their 48th anniversary on December 17. They also use the latest penetration aids, such as maneuvering warheads, which were tested not so long ago.

Close-range anti-missiles continue to be test-launched, carrying on a practice started in 1983. These missiles are intended to protect a region or a point target. The last two launches were made on October 11 and 30.

A vast inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles fitted out with radar penetration aids and combined with a well-organized anti-missile point defense system will enable Russia to build a modern nuclear deterrent of high effectiveness and survivability.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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