Possibilities of US-Russian Cooperation on Theater Missile Defense

Jul 14, 2010

By Oliver Bloom

 

Even as the United States moves ahead with missile defense programs of its own, the Russian Federation doesn’t plan on being left behind. The official Russian International News Agency reported that Air Force Commander Colonel General Alexander Zelin announced yesterday that Russia plans to purchase new S-500 anti-aircraft missile systems by 2020. 
 
Even as Colonel General Zelin announced  
  
the S-500 air defense system is a system that will solve Russia's missile defense problems
 
he made sure to state that it is not comparable to U.S. missile defenses. As Colonel General Zelin explained,
 
I would not compare the S-500 with the U.S. missile defense since they have different technical characteristics.
 
While the S-500 system is similar to the US Patriot system, it is of far shorter range than both the U.S. midcourse interceptors in Alaska and even the SM-3 Aegis systems. Nevertheless, the S-500 would be another step forward for the Russian air defense program, for, as the World Aeronautical Press Agency reports,
 
the S-500 will be able to outperform the S-400, which have already exceeded US Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system.
 
The S-500, which has been in design for years, is an upgraded version of the S-400 air defense system, and is described by the World Aeronautical Press Agency as
 
designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles and for defence against Airborne Early Warning and Control-Airborne Warning and Control System, and against jamming aircraft. It will replace those S-400 designed for defence and placed against a massive air attack. They can hit simultaneously 10 ballistic targets in supersonic flight at a speed of 5 km/s (compared to the six targets of S-400).
 
While the United States and Russia are going in different directions with regards to missile and air defense (Russia has concentrated far more on shorter range theater missile defense and don’t have nearly as advanced a midcourse interception program as the United States) the expertise associated with the Russian S-400 and S-500 systems could clearly valuable be to the United States.
 
Even as development of the S-500 goes ahead, Colonel General Zelin also said that the Russians
 
will buy a significant number of S-400s before 2020. They will not just go to the five anti-aircraft missile regiments equipped with this system, but also to a much larger number [of regiments.]
 
The Russians plan on deploying S-400 missile systems to the Far East, a move that one unnamed Russian defense official reported will 
 
help avert potential missile threats from North Korea.
 
As Interfax explained,
 
[the defense official] acknowledged that North Korean missile programs posed a certain danger to neighboring Russian regions, for example, in case of failed launches or stray rockets.
 
North Korea’s missile test field is not far from the Russian border, the official said in an interview following an earlier statement by Air Force Commander Colonel General Alexander Zelin that two S-400 missiles systems would be put on combat duty in far-eastern Russia.
 
Combined with Russia’s increasing criticism of Iran’s nuclear intentions (not to mention the Russian cancellation of the S-300 sale to Iran), it appears that the United States and Russia may be coming to share similar positions about the threats from nuclear-armed states. While there is no doubt that the Russians remain quite skeptical of the U.S. ballistic missile defense program, the mutual concern regarding the missile threat from nuclear-armed states certainly opens the door to cooperation. The United States and Russia have often discussed missile defense collaboration (from President Reagan’s offer in the 1980s, to President Putin’s offer in the early 2000s to recent proposals from Secretary Gates), but nothing has come to fruition. GSN areported yesterday that
 
Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin announced yesterday that envoys to the NATO-Russia Council were set to meet Friday for a briefing on alliance antimissile plans…. Rogozin said a Kremlin proposal for NATO to make use of its radar facilities was still on the table.
 
While sharing radar facilities would be a far cry from the integration of the S-400/S-500 systems with the American missile defense programs (Patriot Advanced Capability-3 or Aegis SM-3, it still seems like cooperation on theater missile defense against mutual threats (Iran and North Korea) could involve improved system effectiveness, avoid redundant capabilities, assuage mutual suspicions, and represent a building block for future cooperation, not to mention result in significant cost savings for both countries. If the Obama Administration is serious about a reset with Russia, missile defense cooperation is a great place to start, not only because of the historical framework for cooperation on the issue, but because of the significant benefits from cooperation.  The transparency and confidence-building from such cooperation could go a long way towards assuaging Russian fears about ballistic missile defense, and thus open up the relationship for far more progress on arms control.  

 

 

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