Russia Deploys Advanced Cruise Missiles in Major Navy Reboot

  • KALIBR-class of weapons used in Syria to be fielded widely
  • Office of Naval Intelligence analyzes Russian navy's intent

A Russian Navy captain stands in front of an anti-aircraft system on a Russian missile cruiser as it patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, on Dec. 17.

Source: AFP via Getty Images

The Russian military intends to expand deployment of its most sophisticated non-nuclear cruise missiles for attacks at land and sea under a sweeping naval modernization, according to an analysis by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.

Plans to install the Russian navy’s new KALIBR-class missiles even on vessels such as corvettes, or small warships, “is profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten or destroy adversary targets,” the U.S. agency, known as ONI, said in a report posted on its website. “With the use of the land attack missile, all platforms have a significant ability to hold distant fixed ground targets at risk using conventional warheads.”

The KALIBR class is “a more capable Russian domestic version” of weapons it has marketed for export over the past decade, according to the report. The new weapons include sea-launched, land-attack models that were fired into Syria from a submerged Russian submarine, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news service.

While U.S.-Russian tensions have escalated over President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Syria’s civil war to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, as well as his earlier moves in Ukraine, the 68-page ONI report is mostly a matter-of-fact account of Russia’s successes in modernizing its navy.

‘Continuing Challenges’

Still, the intelligence office said Russia’s continuing development of anti-ship missiles “with improved design features” such as supersonic speed and evasive maneuvers, “will present continuing challenges to U.S. and allied naval forces.”

The KALIBR-class, with ranges of as much as 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles), improves on export weapons such as the supersonic anti-ship, sea-skimming cruise missile known as the Sizzler. Chinese submarines are equipped with the Sizzler, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military capabilities.

The Naval intelligence report mostly outlines broad trends in the Russian navy’s equipment modernization and personnel development. It refers only in general terms to modernization of the submarine fleet, the threat that most worries U.S. planners.

“Placing a priority on strategic deterrence and defense, Russia’s recapitalization of its submarine forces began with its strategic ballistic missile submarines,” ONI said. “Construction of general-purpose nuclear and non-nuclear submarines was second in importance.”

Atlantic Operations

In response to assertive naval moves by Putin, the U.S. Navy received approval from Congress to shift fiscal 2015 funds in order to upgrade its ability to detect Russian submarines. As soon as mid-2016, the U.S. service also wants to send to the Atlantic Ocean a prototype networked “undersea sensor system” that “addresses emergent real-world threats,” according to a Defense Department budget document.

Russia presented a new maritime strategy in July that places greater emphasis on operations in the Atlantic. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization “has been developing actively of late and coming closer to our borders, and Russia is of course responding to these developments,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said at the time.

Although only a “modest number of new class ships and submarines will enter the Navy by the turn of the decade,” they “will incorporate the latest advances in militarily significant areas,” ONI said. Echoing the U.S. Navy’s trend, the more technologically advanced Russian ships will require smaller crews “with personnel better trained and educated to exploit the full potential of their combat systems,” it said.

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