Can Russia’s Iskander ground-based tactical missile change the balance of power?

Can Russia’s Iskander  ground-based tactical missile change the balance of power?

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced its intention to complete the modernization of its ground-based tactical missiles in 2019 deploying Iskander-M short-range missile brigades in Kursk and Znamensk, the Russian state news agency reported at the beginning of the year.

First, China developed a long-range “navy-killer” ballistic missiles. Now, Russia’s Iskander may have the same goal.

Iskander-M missiles are expected to be fielded with the Russian Army’s 448th Missile Brigade in Kursk and a resurrected brigade in Znamensk.

In July and August, Russia carried out two electronic launches of the 9K720 Iskander-M (NATO: SS-26 Stone) targeting ships in the Black Sea.

Russia's Iskander
Russia’s Iskander

The Iskander was first developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the Scud. It is a road-based mobile launch system capable of firing different models of cruise and ballistic missiles.

The  Iskander-M instead is a single-stage ballistic missile, that can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead, and offer a range of 500 kilometers (311 miles).

“These missiles are readjusted for targeting second and third-class destroyers – basically ships that are capable of carrying Tomahawk missiles and parts of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. Ships of this class – aside from the USS Ticonderoga – act as the main launching pads for Washington’s precision-guided Prompt Global Strikes,” Russia Beyond said in an article.

“The anti-ship missiles can fly towards their targets at 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,243 miles). They also skirt above the water – at an altitude of only 5 to10 meters (16 to 33 feet), which means hitting it with any sort of sea-based anti-missile defense systems is practically impossible. The missile’s payload ranges from 200 to 500 kilogram (441 to 1,102 pounds). The lighter ones normally target destroyers, while the heavier ones are intended for cruisers,” it added.

Iskander At a Glance

Alternative Names: Stone, Tender, 9M720, 9M723, 9M723-1
Class: Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Basin Road-mobile
Length: 7.3 m
Diameter: 0.92 m
Range: 400–500 km, (Iskander-M), 280 km (Iskander-E)

Launch Weight: 3,800 – 4,020 kg
Payload: 480–700 kg (Iskander-M), 480 kg (Iskander-E)
Warhead: High-explosive, submunition, earth-penetrator, thermobaric
Propulsion: Single-stage solid propellant
Status: Operational

Defense Insight Analysis

Russia wants to send the message that it can use ballistic missiles as anti-ship weapons.

Russia may be inspired by China’s modified DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which are considered to be “carrier-killer”  missiles.

Though the Chinese DF-26 has the US Navy (USN) worried for its aircraft carriers in the Pacific, ship-killing ballistic missiles are still considered an untested weapon.

The MoD is procuring missiles and associated equipment for two brigades under an August 2017 contract.

Kursk is the last of 12 extant Tochka missile brigades to be rearmed during the past decade. It was supposed to receive the Iskander-M in 2018, but the schedule slipped to 2019.

Matteo Natalucci

Matteo Natalucci is a geopolitics expert working as an Editor in London covering all aspects of international affairs and technology. Matteo previously worked for the United Nations, the European Commission, Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, IHS Markit, and Global Data. Get in touch with the author: matteo.natalucci@internationalinsider.org
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