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Putin and Missile Defense Malaise
Broadening US Options
Dr. Stephen J. Cimbala
Dr. Adam Lowther
On 1 March 2018, President Vladimir Putin promised a new generation of
Russian nuclear weapons specifically intended to circumvent US strategic missile
defenses.1 The weapons mentioned in Putin's presentation to the Federal Assem-
bly included an intercontinental cruise missile, a hypersonic glide weapon, and a
long-r? ange nuclear torpedo, in addition to other nuclear-c? apable delivery systems
in development and/or deployment. One of the reasons for Russo-American and
NATO-Russian divergence on missile defenses is the Russian concern that
NATO regional and US global missile defenses could overturn the stability of
nuclear deterrence based on assured retaliation.2 Although Moscow's concerns are
understandable, given Russia's dependence on nuclear weapons to deter or stop a
feared invasion from the West, US planning assumes that advanced ballistic mis-
sile defenses in Europe exist to protect NATO allies from small-?scale attacks
from Iran--not Russia.3
On the other hand, missile defenses can be tasked to protect retaliatory forces
as their priority, or singular, mission. For example, terminal antimissile defenses
for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), deployed in missile silos, could be
designed to protect those retaliatory forces from first strikes instead of popula-
tions from retaliatory attacks.The possibility of defending silo-b? ased ICBMs with
terminal ballistic missile defenses (BMD) to reduce their first-s? trike vulnerability
was studied during the Cold War and subsequently by the US government and
various defense contractors.4 The Nixon administration approved deployment of
the Sentinel-S? afeguard system, with a primary mission of defending retaliatory
forces, in 1969, but the United States subsequently mothballed the system after
agreeing to the Anti-?Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.5
In the sections that follow, we first consider some of the military-?strategic and
arms control issues that have complicated US- and NATO-Russian dialogue on
missile defenses. In the second section, we analyze the hypothetical impacts that
ICBM silo defenses deployed by the United States and Russia might have on
deterrence and arms control stability, including consideration of possible alterna-
tives.6 The development and eventual deployment by Russia and the United States
Putin and Missile Defense Malaise
of advanced hypersonic weapons make this topic especially timely. Hypersonics
could pose time-?urgent threats to both fixed and mobile strategic launchers, but
especially to silo-?based ICBMs.7
Post-Cold War and Missile Defenses
The United States and Russia now field 80 percent fewer operationally de-
ployed strategic nuclear weapons than during the Cold War. As table 1 illustrates,
the United States and Russia each field a force with a slightly different mix of
warheads and delivery vehicles--all of which meet the requirements of the New
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Table 1. New START Treaty aggregate numbers of strategic offensive arms
Category of Data United States Russia
Deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed
heavy bombers 656 524
Warheads on deployed ICBMs, on deployed SLBMs,
and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy 1,365 1,461
Deployed and non-?deployed Launchers of ICBMs, de-
ployed and non-d? eployed launchers of SLBMs, and 800 760
deployed and non-d? eployed heavy bombers
*Under New START counting rules, each bomber counts as one warhead.
Source: US Department of State, New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms (Washington, DC: US Department of State, 2019).
At the same time the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear weap-
ons was in dramatic decline, the United States refused efforts on the development
of antiballistic missile defenses.8 Antiballistic missile defense technologies are of
interest not only to the United States and Russia but also to other states who feel
threatened by the spread of ballistic missiles outside of Europe. The spread of
ballistic missiles and the decline of nuclear arsenals occurred independently but
ultimately converged in their significant impact on strategic stability. One example
is prescient. Japan, a nonnuclear state, would prefer neither to join the ranks of
nuclear weapons states nor to enter into a regional nuclear arms race. It is, how-
ever, very interested in antimissile defenses as a defense against a limited nuclear
strike--possibly from North Korea. Japan is already cooperating with the United
States in developing and deploying theater missile defenses for its state territory
and contiguous waters.9 This stance is not unreasonable from Japan's perspective,
considering its proximity to North Korea, China, and other Asian nuclear powers.
Missile defenses might provide for a country like Japan or South Korea an alter-
native "deterrent by denial" instead of a nuclear deterrent by threat of unaccept-
able second-?strike retaliation.10 Antiballistic missile defenses could also serve as
an insurance policy against accidental launches or unauthorized rogue attacks.
Cimbala & Lowther
Table 2 summarizes active and planned phases of the US-NATO European
Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense plan, which could be repli-
cated in Japan, Korea, or elsewhere.
Table 2. European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense*
Phase IV
Information Phase I Phase II Phase III (canceled
March 2013)
Timeframe 2011 2015 2018 2020
Capability Deploying today's Enhancing Enhancing Early intercept of
capability medium-?range mis- intermediate-?range MRBMs, IRBMs
sile defense missile defense and ICBMs
Address regional Expand defended Counter short-, Cope with MRBMs,
ballistic missile area against short-? medium-?and IRBMs, and poten-
Threat/Mission threats to Europe and medium-?range intermediate-?range tial future ICBM
and deployed U.S. missile threats to missile threats to threats to the
personnel Southern Europe include all of Eu- United States
AN/TPY-2 (FBM) in AN/TPY-2 (FBM) in
AN/TPY-2 (FBM) in Kurecik, Turkey; Kurecik, Turkey;
AN/TPY-2 (FBM) in Kurecik, Turkey; C2BMC in C2BMC in
Kurecik, Turkey; C2BMC in Ramstein, Ger- Ramstein, Ger-
C2BMC in Ramstein, Ger- many; Aegis BMD many; Aegis BMD
Components Ramstein, Ger- many; Aegis BMD ships with SM-3 IIA ships with SM-3 IIA
many; Aegis BMD ships with SM-3 IB off the off the
ships with SM-3 IA off the coast of coast of Spain; coast of Spain;
off the coast of Spain; Aegis Aegis Aegis
Spain Ashore with SM-3 Ashore Ashore
1B in Romania With SM-3 IIA in With SM-3 IIB in
Romania and Po- Romania and Po-
land land
In conceptual
Technology Exists In testing Under development stage when can-
Turkey, Germany, Turkey, Turkey, Germany, Turkey, Germany,
Locations ships off the coast Germany, ships off ships off the coast ships off the coast
of Spain the coast of Spain, of Spain, ashore in of Spain, ashore in
ashore in Romania Romania and Po- Romania and Po-
land land
*Separate national contributions to the mission of European BMD have been announced by Netherlands and France.
Source: Karen Kaya, "NATO Missile Defense and the View from the Front Line," Joint Force Quarterly, 71, no. 4 (2013), 84-89.
Aegis Ashore = land-?based component of the Aegis BMD system;
AN/TPY-2 (FBM) = Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance,
Model 2 (Forward-?based Mode)
BMD = ballistic missile defense
C2BMC = command, control, battle management, and communications
ICBM = intercontinental ballistic missile
IRBM = intermediate-?range ballistic missile
MRBM = medium-r?ange ballistic missile
The Obama administration's attempt to "reset" relations with Russia led to the
conclusion of the New START agreement and to a temporary thaw in US-Russia

Are there still missile silos in the USA? There do remain some active missile silos, in Montana, North Dakota, and at Warren Air Force Base, which is in both Colorado and Wyoming. How many active missile silos are in the US? At present, there are about 270 apparent silos observable in the three silo fields. If the third field grows to match the others, they will total about 350.