Russia Claims Its New ICBM Thwarts U.S. Missile Defense Shield
U.S.-Russian Talks Set To Begin On European Missile Defense System
Russia Saturday test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that it claims can defeat the U.S. ballistic missile defense shield.
Whether true or not, the announcement of testing on the RS-12M Topol, or SS-25 Sickle, ICBM might have the effect of lessening support in Congress for continued funding and development of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems.
Moscow made the announcement of the test just as talks are set to open in Hungary between senior-level U.S. and Russian leaders over plans to extend the U.S. missile shield to Europe, a plan that Russian leaders adamantly oppose.
As well, the Russian announcement may be aimed at lessening chances that the Czech Republic and Poland will agree to host that U.S. missile defense installation by providing sites for the radar and interceptor silos.
The U.S.-Russian discussions in Budapest also might include proposals for Russia to cooperate in the U.S.-designed Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system that Moscow so far has excoriated in blistering terms.
It would be the third site for the GMD system, adding to two existing GMD installations in Alaska and California.
Congress already made a final decision to freeze funds for the European GMD program until both the Czech and Polish parliaments agree to host the system, and until Secretary of Defense Robert Gates certifies that the GMD system works. All of those preconditions may be less likely to occur if the Russian claims that they can pierce the GMD shield are seen widely as credible.
Russian strategic missile forces performed the test launch, according to RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency.
"The launch of the ICBM RS-12M Topol was successfully conducted at 5:43 p.m. Moscow time [2:43 p.m. GMT] on Dec. 8 from the Kapustin Yar testing site in the Arkhangelsk Region," Russian Col. Alexander Vovk said, according to the news agency.
The ICBM Topol was tested Oct. 19. Its service life now is 21 years, rather than the earlier-expected 10 years.
Russia didn’t specify just what sort of new equipment has been added to the RS-12M Topol to permit it to evade the U.S. ballistic missile shield.
That announcement of tests on the new type of ICBM is one more Russian slam against the plan to install the GMD system in Europe.
Russians also have threatened to use military action to destroy the GMD system if it is built in Europe, and threatened to resume Cold War-style targeting of European cities with nuclear-tipped missiles.
At the same time, however, Russia has offered to provide data streams from some of its radar installations that could be used in the GMD system, if it is built in Europe.
Moscow leaders apparently believe a love-hate, hot-cold approach will permit them to water down or defeat the U.S. attempt to install the GMD system in Europe.
For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President Bush at the American leader’s family vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, in July. But then Putin returned to Moscow to resume his scathing attacks on the GMD plan.
In essence, the U.S.-Russian debate has Moscow leaders saying that the United States is attempting to install interceptors in Europe that could intercept and destroy Russian ICBMs.
Bush and others have ridiculed that assertion, saying that 10 GMD interceptors are too slow to catch Russian ICBMs, and far too few to pose any risk to the hundreds of Russian nuclear warheads and missiles.
Bush insists that the European GMD installation would, instead, be aimed at shooting down enemy missiles fired from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran.
Iran has fired multiple missiles in a single test, fired a missile from a submerged submarine, and is thought to be developing long-range missiles easily capable of striking European cities. Also, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped from the map.
Iran also has defiantly ignored world opinion as it continues to develop nuclear materials that the oil-rich nation claims are for peaceful electrical power generation, but which European, U.S. and United Nations leaders fear may be used to build nuclear weapons. Bush, especially, has pointed with alarm to the possibility that Iran might acquire nuclear arms.
However, a new U.S. intelligence report, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), said that with some confidence it can be assumed that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons development program in 2003.
However, that doesn’t mean that Iran hasn’t restarted the program, experts have said. (Please see story in this issue, and in Space & Missile Defense Report, Friday, Dec. 7, 2007.)