|Coming to a theater near you: Kilo-class diesel submarine "Novorossiysk", capable of launching land-attack cruise missiles|
[credit: Admiralty Shipyards]
Meanwhile, Russia is progressing toward its goal of deploying long-range, conventionally-armed cruise missiles with ever increasing stand-off launch distances on its heavy bombers, submarines and surface combatants, augmenting the Kremlin's toolkit of flexible deterrent options short of the nuclear threshold. Should these trends continue, over time NORAD will face increased risk in our ability to defend North America against Russian air, maritime, and cruise missile threats. -- Admiral Gortney, March 2015
In his written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 12, Admiral William Gortney (Commander, U.S. Northern Command and Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command) briefly touched upon an issue that will become a real headache for NATO and its allies as early as this year: Russian Navy submarines with conventionally- or nuclear-armed, long-range land-attack cruise missiles. Whereas similarly armed strategic bombers and naval surface combatants are somewhat easy to track, the same cannot be said for their undersea brethren.
|"America is worried about the growing missile deterrence capabilities of
I really sympathize with you. How well I understand you!
[RF Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin responding to Admiral Gortney's written testimony to the SASC]
Both the 2010 and 2014 versions of the Russian Federation Military Doctrine state that the "deployment of strategic non-nuclear precision-guided weapons systems" was and remains a key external military threat to Russia. But the latest version also introduced Russia's own "non-nuclear deterrence system" that includes "non-nuclear means" to prevent aggression against Russia. Paragraph 32.b lists "strategic (nuclear and non-nuclear) deterrence, including the prevention of military conflicts" as a primary mission of Russia's Armed Forces during peacetime.
Whether talking about foreign systems or its own, Russia uses the term "strategic non-nuclear deterrence" to refer to the use of precision-guided munitions. In the Russia Navy, this means sea-launched land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), specifically the new SS-N-30, which is part of the Kalibr family of missiles.
To better understand how Russia views "strategic non-nuclear deterrence" and how Russian submarines would be employed in such a role, a review of a few definitions is in order.
In June 2012, the Serpukhovo Strategic Rocket Forces Military Institute hosted the 31st All-Russia Scientific-Technical Conference - "Problems of the Effectiveness and Security of the Functionality of Complex Technical and Information Systems". One of the topics presented at the conference was Method of Selecting Indicators of the Effectiveness of Defeating Enemy Facilities Using Nuclear Weapons and Strategic Non-Nuclear Weapons [document apparently removed after recent website reorganization]. In that brief, presenters from the Petr Velikiy Strategic Rocket Forces Military Academy listed four strategic operations, including the Strategic Operation to Defeat the Adversary's Critically Important Facilities (Russian abbreviation: SOKVO). As the authors explained, the goal of this strategic operation is "to disorganize the adversary's governmental and military command and control, to destabilize the socio-political environment, to create conditions for preventing or stopping aggression against the Russian Federation, and to defeat the adversary, to include as [when the adversary is] part of a coalition."
The SOKVO strategic operation may have been formalized sometime over the past decade, but the concept probably received serious research funding as early as the 1990s following the United States' first combat test of its Tomahawk LACM during Operation Desert Storm. In 2010, the Club of Military Leaders of the Russian Federation held a conference titled "Russia in Wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries: Lessons and Conclusions". At the conference, retired General-Colonel Viktor Barynkin briefed on the history of operational strategy as a science in Russia. In the post-WWII years, operational-strategic views were revised with the introduction of nuclear weapons. However, those views have again changed to focus not on destruction of an adversary, but on destruction of its key facilities. This in turn led to Russia's development of its SOKVO strategic operation. "The era of the theory of defensive and offensive fronts, oceanic strategic operations, and wartime districts is over... It has become practical to combine defensive and offensive operations and strategic operations in the oceanic theater of military actions into a single strategic operation."
Critically Important Facilities
This term can find its roots in RF state documents dating back to at least the mid-1990s. The 2012 Russian Security Council directive "Primary Areas of Focus of State Policy in Ensuring the Safety of Automated Control Systems of Critically Important Facilities of Russian Federation Infrastructure Using Industrial and Technological Processes", while primarily addressing information security, does provide a state definition of "critically important facility" as:
critically important facility of Russian Federation infrastructure (herein - critically important facility) - a facility, the destruction (or disabling) of functionality of which leads to the loss of command, collapse of infrastructure, irreversible alteration (or disabling) of the economy of the nation, constituent member of the Russian Federation or administrative-territorial unit, or significant worsening of the security of the livelihood of the populace living in these areas, for a lengthy period
Examples of "critically important facilities" include:
- communications lines
- radio and television systems
- electric/hydroelectric/nuclear power stations
- oil and gas drilling companies
- transportation activities
Russia classifies the threats of "critically important facilities" as:
- nuclear (nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons complex companies)
- radioactive (locations where liquid radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel are stored)
- chemical (oil/chemical, metallurgic, machine-building, food production, and radio-technical, electro-technical and defense manufacturing companies)
- man-made (large railway nodes, naval ports, airports, large cities, bridges, tunnels, dams, fuel- and energy-related facilities)
- flammable (gas and oil pipes, storage facilities, pumping stations, etc.)
- state command, financial/credit, information and telecommunications (financial institutions, fixed and mobile command stations, telephone/television/radio networks, large public arenas)
It is important to point out that the U.S., too, considers non-nuclear missile strikes as an alternative to strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons. According to the Pentagon's June 2013 "Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States":
DoD is directed to conduct deliberate planning for non-nuclear strike options to assess what objectives and effects could be achieved through integrated non-nuclear strike options, and to propose possible means to make these objectives and effects achievable. Although they are not a substitute for nuclear weapons, planning for non-nuclear strike options is a central part of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.
New Mission, New Missile
"Critically important facilities" can be defeated or destroyed using a range of tools, including long-range LACMs. Russia's newest naval land-attack missile, the SS-N-30, can hit targets located anywhere from 1,300km (700nm) to 2,600km (1,400nm) away, although sources differ. Caspian Flotilla commander Rear Admiral Alekminskiy mentioned the 2,600km range during a June 2012 meeting with Dagestan president Magomedsalam Magomedov; however, a range of 3,000km (1,620nm) has been seen in unofficial reporting.
There are at least two variants of the missile: the original designator (3M-14) and a "special" designator (3M-14S), the latter of which may be configured with a nuclear warhead (although a nuclear-armed LACM is outside the boundaries of "strategic non-nuclear deterrence"). The U.S. TLAM-A Block II had two maximum ranges for both conventionally- (1,700km/900nm) and nuclear-armed versions (2,500km/1,350nm). If the Russians have created a LACM with two different ranges that are very similar to the ranges of U.S. TLAMs, those ranges might similarly represent both conventionally- and nuclear-armed missile ranges.
Below are nine maps depicting approximate range rings for an SS-N-30 launch platform (ship or submarine) operating in various areas of the world. The yellow and red rings depict 1,300km/700nm (conventional) and 3,000km/1,620nm (nuclear) ranges, respectively. The launch points chosen are not meant to suggest actual planned launch areas, but simply to provide a sense of LACM coverage.
|Southern Norwegian Sea launch point|
|Central Mediterranean Sea launch point|
|Northwestern Caspian Sea launch point|
|Combined European theater launch points|
|Central Sea of Japan launch point|
|Central Pacific Ocean launch point|
|Eastern Pacific Ocean launch point|
|Western Atlantic Ocean launch point|
|Combined launch point coverage against North America|
In summary, the purpose of strategic non-nuclear SS-N-30 land-attack cruise missiles, as part of a SOKVO, is to defeat or make unusable those things that make life bearable in the modern world: electricity, heating, water, telecommunications, airports, bridges, banks (credit/ATM cards), and, of course, the internet. Russia is currently building several classes of submarines and surface combatants capable of launching the SS-N-30. At the same time, Russia is upgrading some of its older nuclear submarines and surface ships to carry the land-attack cruise missiles in an apparent attempt to achieve some level of parity with the United States and its ubiquitous Tomahawk LACM launchers.
The reader should remember that by early 2016 Moscow will have bombers, surface ships, and submarines at its disposal to launch LACMs. Any strategic operation could include one or a combination of any of the three platforms to inflict the desired amount of damage
If having a large stockpile of LACMs and launch platforms is more than just for show, what would trigger Russia to actually launch LACMs? Would Russia have used them against rebel strongholds in Syria or during last year's crisis in Ukraine? Could there be an instance when Russia and the U.S. are both launching LACMs into the same country to support opposite sides of a conflict?