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Russia’s New Weapons of Mass Destruction: What Do They Mean for America?

Russia’s New Weapons of Mass Destruction: What Do They Mean for America?

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IHS new contributor Monique MaldonadoBy Dr. Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Last week, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has produced indomitable weapons of mass destruction. Putin’s annual speech on March 1 suggested Russia had created new cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and hypersonic missiles, as well as underwater drones.

Putin also suggested that Russia’s weaponry was so innovative that anti-missile defense systems cannot counter them, not even those of the United States or its Western allies. As a superpower and a leader in advanced technology and weaponry, Russia may have created a major challenge for the United States.

According to Jeffrey Lewis of Foreign Policy, Putin said the new missile defense systems are a response to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. That was a partnership established with the Soviet Union under President Richard Nixon’s administration in 1972.

In June 2002, the George W. Bush administration renounced the treaty, leading to its eventual termination. Speaking of Russia’s ability to design superlative missile defense systems, Putin stated, “You didn’t listen to our country then, listen to us now.” He is basically saying that his new missile system is a message to the West that Russia will not conform to any standards and is not in a weak position.

The timing of Putin’s annual address could be perceived as a ploy. The United States recently announced its new policy of expanding its nuclear capabilities to counter Russian or North Korean nuclear weapons.

Putin’s Missiles Are Not Ready for Combat, According to Other Sources

Russia claims it has successfully tested its new missile defense system. But the United States was aware of previous testing of Russia’s RS-28 Sarmat, a heavy ICBM, a couple of years ago.

Sources say the ICBM tests Putin claims were so successful actually resulted in a few failures. Additionally, these sources are adamant that Russia’s cruise and nuclear missiles are still in the research and development phase. That phase does not constitute “operationally ready” systems that could pose a threat to the United States.

New Russian Missiles Could Bypass US and Western Defenses

However, the new missiles purportedly can bypass U.S. and Western missile defense systems due to their ability to fly at low altitudes and their unpredictable flight paths. They are also difficult to detect and have an unrestricted range, which is a capability the United States cannot currently counteract. Time magazine says the missile systems reportedly can travel over the South Pole and strike the United States.

It is evident the United States has limited capabilities to defend against Russia’s plethora of nuclear missile warheads. Physicist George N. Lewis of Cornell University says the U.S. has only 44 missile interceptors while Russia has over 1,500 warheads in its inventory.

Although there is talk of significantly increasing U.S. deterrence mechanisms, American technology does not match Russia’s advanced weaponry. There are a number of warheads that could possibly overwhelm U.S. defense systems.

Ian Williams, an expert on missile defense technology at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, insists that “[American interceptors] do not even come close to putting a dent in Russia’s ability to threaten the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons.”

It is a tough time for the United States. The U.S. is currently struggling with domestic security issues such as school shootings, gun control debates, immigration reform, White House resignations and scandals, international terrorism and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

North Korea Also Creating Problems for US Defense

The U.S. focus on international terrorism has shifted to Russia, North Korea and weapons of mass destruction. The tensions among the three countries increases the likelihood of a nuclear attack. Such an attack had been considered a “cold” issue since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

North Korea continues to threaten the United States while it carries out night testing of missiles and advances in mobile launching. Russia’s cruise missiles pose an even more dangerous threat, as their trajectory can be unpredictable and undetected. The range of Russia’s missiles can also be extended to longer flights.

Without concrete knowledge of Russia’s missile testing and readiness, it is difficult to know how prepared the United States is for such advanced weaponry. If we have an accurate account of those weapons, the U.S. faces the challenge of how to counter such weapons without having any known innovative anti-defense systems. Also, there is the question of whether current U.S. nuclear weaponry is a match for Russia’s new technology.

The fact that Russia’s missiles can travel across the world and strike their target is extraordinary. However, developing a defense system to intercept and mitigate such weapons is even more difficult. That begs the question: Will the United States ever have that capability?

About the Author

U.S. Air Force veteran Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi (formerly Maldonado) is the founder and CEO of MD Educational Consulting Firm and an associate professor of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. As a security management expert, Monique served as Chief of Special Security and Enlisted Military Assistant to the U.S. Defense Secretary and assistant to the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency Director. She holds a bachelor’s in homeland security studies (AMU), a master’s in criminal justice (Boston University) and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration (Walden University).

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