The war in Ukraine is a war of missiles versus missile defense. Russia is now launching cruise missiles as the missiles of choice over ballistic missiles. Russia used their short-range ballistic missiles extensively during the beginning of their invasion, but since last summer their usage has severely diminished. Now 18 months into the war, Russia uses their inventory of ballistic missiles much more sparingly, relying for most of its attacks on Ukraine from the Kalibr sea launched cruise missile and the Kinzhal and Kh-101 air launched cruise and ballistic missiles deployed from their strategic bombers and tactical fighters for more strikes into Ukraine. Beyond these cruise missile capabilities, the Russians have also leveraged organic and Iranian Group 3 unmanned aerial systems as cruise missile-like projectiles (link). Whether the Russians increased use of cruise missiles and the reduction of its use of ballistic missiles is cost-driven, capacity-driven or launching platform driven or all three, Russia’s land-based ballistic missile platforms “the Iskander” are not being heavily used. The Iskanders have a range of around 500 kilometers and fly inside of the atmosphere as does all of the Russian Cruise Missiles.
Defeating the current Russian trend of cruise missiles and the land based ballistic missiles of the Iskmander means defeating them inside the atmosphere. The ability to defend against them is limited by the capacity of US and European Missile Defenses deployed in Ukraine. These are the PAC-2, PAC-3, SAMP-T, NASAMS, and IRIS-T missile defense systems. As they are from multiple countries, they are not completely technically integrated in a holistic open missile defense architecture, they operate separately from each other and share early warning through Link 16. Germany is leading 16 nations which have signed up for the European Sky Shield Initiative (link) that is focused on the IAMD for inside the atmosphere intercepts that is highly successful against ballistic and cruise missiles. Germany has recently attained an upper tier space interception capability in Arrow 3 for intercepting ballistic missiles in space. The Arrow 3 will not be integrated with its IAMD architecture and it will be operated separately.
This is similar to the current European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) that is operated separately out of the Ballistic Missile Defense Operations Cell (BMDOC) in Germany for missile defense in Space against ballistic missiles from Iran. The two EPAA Aegis Ashore Sites in Romania and Poland have SM3 interceptors that operate and intercept in Space designed against the Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat.
Vulnerabilities in NATO’s fractured Missile Defense architecture are being exploited by Russia and Iran. Germany and other NATO States need to prioritize correctly their anti-missile arsenals against the most likely and the most lethal threats. They must then synthesize their Missile Defense capabilities and capacities accordingly. There must be a common understanding of the changing character of the threat systems from Russia and Iran, comprehensive solutions must be implemented quickly, and done so in a collaborative, open networked environment.
For now, the question is – who is Germany defending against with the Arrow 3, who is the threat? What is the Russian land-based missile threat that flies through space that the Arrow 3 and current configuration of EPAA SM-3s in Romania and Poland are capable of defeating? Should not Germany (and NATO with EPAA) be looking at prioritizing threats in the atmosphere? Should they not consider a collaborative open networked architecture leveraging the full package of these endo/exo atmospheric missile defense systems?