Dave Majumdar for The National Interest:
Early next year in February, the first of Russia’s new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers will take to the air.
The new bomber is essentially a prototype of a next generation variant of the venerable Blackjack, the first generation of which was built during the 1980s in the last days of the Soviet Union. Russia operates 16 of the surviving aircraft as long-range cruise missile carriers as a key part of its strategic bomber force. The aircraft have performed well during Russia’s Syria campaign acting as launch platforms for the stealthy MKB Raduga H-101 cruise missile, which is thought to have a range between 4,500MKm and 5,500Km.
The Russians plan to buy about fifty of the new Tu-160 variant. It is also likely that the 16 original model Tu-160 airframes will be upgraded to the new standard. Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload. Instead, the Tu-160—which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0—would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling.
Interesting point that if the missiles have a range of over 4000 kilometers, the aircraft doesn’t need to be stealth.
Overconfidence in the missile defense can lead the United States to make dumb foreign policy decisions and neglect relationships with allies.
Figuring out the effectiveness of a missile defense system is complicated business, and often the matter is oversimplified in order to make it understandable.
It is for example easy to confuse the maximum range of a missile with the size of an area that the missile could potentially protect. For a variety of reasons that is not the case because the effective range of an air defense missile is much smaller and depends on the relative movements between the incoming missile and the air defense missile. This misunderstanding of the effective coverage area can for example be found in the Danish debate about the need for SM2 missiles on the frigates of the Iver Huitfeldt class, where it has been widely claimed that a single frigate with these missiles would be able to protect most of the country. While a circle around the center of Denmark with the radius of the maximum range of an SM2 missile does cover most of the country on the map, that is unfortunately not even close to the actual effective protection that such a frigate would provide.
But even more importantly, the success of the missile defense system depends on probability calculations that are somewhat counterintuitive for most people. It is not just a simple matter of missiles one-on-one, but a question of figuring out an overall probability of success in a scenario with X number of incoming missiles against Y number of defensive missiles. And the uncomfortable truth is that it usually doesn’t take very many incoming missiles to saturate your defensive system.
A basic understanding of the mathematics of probability is therefore important when trying to determine the effectiveness of your missile defense system and the level of trust you can put on that system. If decision makers don’t understand the concept of probability, they may get overconfident about their defensive systems.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump talked to Fox News about North Korea:
“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them it’s gonna get knocked out.”
So president Trump seems confident in his defense system against ballistic missiles from North Korea, and that may lead him to believe that a preemptive first strike could be a good idea. But as Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang show in War On The Rocks, the president is wrong:
Trump’s remarks, however, make it clear that he believes each interceptor has [a single-shot probability of kill] of 97 percent (rather than 57 percent). Hence “if you send two of them it’s gonna get knocked out.” This is a wildly inflated — almost delusional — sense of how accurate the system is, and how many North Korean ICBMs it could potentially successfully intercept. Trump’s claim is …Continue reading
The Russian ship Marshal Krylov has been updated to make it possible to track ballistic missiles. The story in Izvestia caught my attention because of a rather bold statement that the ship is now able to detect launched missiles anywhere in the world, which seems like a marvelous technical breakthrough given that the earth is round. Have Russian scientists figured out a way to measure athmospheric incidents on the other side of the planet, and if so, why have they intalled it on a ship instead of placing it on land which seems more convenient? Turns out the ship cannot see around corners, and the trick to seeing what’s happening on the other side of the planet is to move the ship. Oh, well.
It is still interesting that Russia now has this maritime capability, though. The ship was originally built to support the Russian space program but has been updated to give it a military purpose as well. It has been assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet, which makes a lot of sense because this seems like the hot spot for ballistic missiles.
It is comforting to know that Russia prioritizes this matter. Literally speaking, the safety of the world could depend on Russia’s ability to monitor missile launches from North Korea and possible American countermeasures. There are some really scary perspectives in the possibility that Russia could misunderstand the launch of American ballistic countermeasures as a massive nuclear strike, and a better Russian situational picture is really good news.
Russia has destroyed the last chemical weapons from its arsenal. The occasion was announced by Putin personally, and the president was not slow to point out that Russia beat USA in reaching the milestone. That reports postimees.ee (in Estonian).
In fact both Russia and USA have failed to meet the 2012 deadline for the destruction its chemical weapons. The fact that Russia came first really must be understood in the sense that they were first among those who came too late. That didn’t stop Putin from jabbing out against the Americans in his statement that painted the occasion as an example that Russia is taking the lead in building a safer world.
The fact that Russia no longer has chemical weapons really is noticeable in a historical perspective. It is good to know that a war in Europe will not be fought with chemical weapons. Of course one must also acknowledge that the reason the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) from 1997 is still being honored by Russia and USA is that chemical weapons don’t fit into current military doctrines of either country. While it’s sort of a free ride to fulfill the CWC from a military perspective, it’s still nice to see that at least some agreements from the era of deescalation stand the test of time.