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Feb. 28, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

New Russian missile threat to homeland
The commander of the military’s Northern Command warned this week that Moscow is deploying conventionally armed missiles that for the first time are capable of striking targets deep inside the United States.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who is also commander of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Command (NORAD), stated in prepared congressional testimony that while Russian nuclear missiles have threatened the country for more than 50 years, Moscow “only recently developed and deployed capabilities to threaten us below the nuclear threshold.”

The new threats include offensive cyberattacks and a new generation of air- and sea-launched cruise missiles.

The missiles can be fired farther from U.S. borders with “significantly greater standoff ranges and accuracy than their predecessors, allowing them to strike North America from well outside NORAD radar coverage,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Russian bombers, including Tu-95 Bears and Tu-160s Blackjacks, also are flying frequent sorties close to U.S. coasts and borders military to show off their nuclear capabilities, he said. The long-range Russian missiles include “highly capable” anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles.

Those air-launched weapons are backed by new Severodvinsk-class submarines “armed with advanced land-attack cruise missiles,” the general said, adding that the new sub “is much quieter and more lethal than previous generations of Russian attack submarines.”

Additionally, Russia is planning to deploy surface warships in Arctic waters armed with the modular Kalibr-NK cruise missile.

The Kalibr “will offer highly precise land-attack capabilities and introduce a new cruise missile threat from our northern approaches,” the four-star commander said.

In addition to the Kalibr, the Russians are bolstering Arctic defenses by deploying K-300 Bastion coastal defense cruise missiles on the New Siberian Islands, missiles that will significantly increase Russia’s control over a large stretch of the northern sea route, he said.

“Russia’s growing non-nuclear capabilities provide Moscow a range of options to dissuade an adversary from escalating and to terminate a conflict on terms favorable to Moscow, increasing the potential for miscalculation or opportunistic actions,” he added.

Another new weapon that poses a threat to the homeland is the Avangard hypersonic missile that travels at a reported 20,000 miles per hour — fast enough to defeat current missile defenses and capable of striking the homeland within 15 minutes of launch atop a ballistic missile.

Asked what is the most significant threat he is facing as commander, Gen. O’Shaughnessy said in the near term it is Russia’s missiles, both conventional and nuclear, and cyberattacks.

“We need to invest in our ability to defend if we’re going to be able to maintain our ability to defend, and that is something that I think we need to have a sense of urgency on,” he said.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, for the first time released the intelligence community’s estimate of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Gen. Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that Moscow has deployed 2,000 small nuclear weapons in its arsenal and noted that the large stockpile signals that Russia is preparing to use the weapons in a future conflict.

The commander made the disclosure while discussing what he termed “Russia’s material breach of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty” in deploying an illegal ground-launched cruise missile, the SSC-8.

As of 2018, “multiple battalions” of the banned cruise missile were deployed, and Gen. Hyten stated that the weapon “illustrates Russia’s broader pattern of malign behavior and willingness to disregard negotiated agreements when they believe it is in their interest.”

“Finally, Russia has an active stockpile [of] up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which are not accountable under the New START Treaty,” he said. “These include air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs and depth charges for medium-range bombers, tactical bombers and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines, and Moscow’s antiballistic missile system.”

For years, the number of Russia’s tactical nuclear warheads and bombs was kept secret. Estimates ranged from 1,000 to as many as 6,000.

The Pentagon has about 500 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, with some 200 deployed in Europe for aircraft strikes and the rest stored in the United States.

The release of numbers for the Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons stockpile comes as the Pentagon is planning to deploy two missiles armed with nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

The Nuclear Posture Review called for outfitting a small number of submarine-launched nuclear missiles with lower-yield warheads. The Pentagon is also contemplating new ground-based missiles in response to the SSC-8 deployment.

A senior military official told Inside the Ring that the need for the smaller nuclear arms was driven by China’s large-scale deployment of medium- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles and Russia’s INF Treaty-violating SSC-8, a ground-launched medium-range nuclear cruise missile.

To deter Chinese regional nuclear missiles, the Navy will deploy a new sea-launched missile for launch from surface ships or submarines. A low-yield warhead will be fashioned from the W-88 warhead by removing one of two explosive packages from the current 475-kiloton weapon.

All sea-launched tactical nuclear arms were deactivated in the 1990s during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Gen. Hyten said the large stockpile of Russia’s nonstrategic weapons supports Moscow’s nuclear doctrine of coercion.

“Combined with its large nuclear weapons infrastructure and ready production base, this underscores Moscow’s commitment to having nuclear weapons underpin its security and commitment to maintaining its nuclear forces for the indefinite future,” he said.

“Their doctrine of coercive use further enhances their ability to challenge the United States and NATO across the full spectrum of political, diplomatic, military and information warfare.”

Gen. Hyten explained during the committee hearing that Russian military doctrine calls for “escalate to win.”

“They may consider if something is going bad on the battlefield somewhere to deploy a low-yield nuclear weapon,” he said. “If they see we have a low-yield nuclear weapon, they won’t go that direction.”

Gen. Hyten also said Russia is cheating on the 2010 New START arms treaty by building new strategic weapons, including a nuclear drone torpedo, a long-range nuclear cruise missile and a new hypersonic strike vehicle. Under START, Russia is required to report new strategic weapons to a consultative group and has not done so.

Two Navy warships transited the Taiwan Strait this week in a show of American support for democratic Taiwan and a dig at mainland China that regards the island as a breakaway Chinese province and not an independent state. The ships were identified as the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem and dry cargo ship USNS Cesar Chavez.

The two ships “conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on Feb. 25, in accordance with international law,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

As in the past, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman protested the transit as a provocation.

“We are firmly opposed to these provocative actions by the U.S. side which are not conducive to the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the China-U.S. relations,” said the spokesman, Lu Kang.

The ships’ transit of the 100-mile-wide strait is the fourth passage in the past four months.

A U.S. destroyer and oiler sailed through in January, and a destroyer and survey ships steamed through in November. Other passages took place in October and July.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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