“Russia, for example, has been modernizing its strategic forces for almost 20 years and is about 70% complete. They’re modernizing their triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear missile submarines and long range bombers, and the command and control for those systems. Additionally, they’re developing hypersonic glide vehicles…They have them on nuclear power torpedos and cruise missiles, and all of these weapons systems upgrades are in addition to their non-treaty accountable nuclear weapons stockpile numbering in the thousands. Obviously, it would be easier for me to list the systems Russia is not modernizing instead of the ones they are.” -Admiral Richard, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, Aug. 4, 2020.
Russia’s military might was on full display this past week following a large scale Naval parade and advanced weapons tests, messaging to the world its resurgence as a great power and the end of unrivaled American power in Europe. The noise was amplified by the Pentagon’s official decision to reduce the number of troops in Germany from 36,000 to 24,000 due to the latter’s persistent inability to conform to the NATO-required 2 percent of GDP defense spending, a move considered to be a “complete gift to the Kremlin,” as “they [Russia] did nothing to merit a reduction of US capability in Europe.”
While multiple parades took place across Russia’s key coastal cities along the Barents Sea, Black Sea and Pacific in what was a grand display of the state’s maritime capabilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the modernization of the fleet in his hometown of St. Petersburg, where 46 ships and vessels, as well as over 4,000 troops, aimed to “demonstrate the growing power” of their Navy. Similar demonstrations took place in the Eastern cities of Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk, Sevastopol in Crimea, the seaport towns of Severomorsk and Baltiysk, as well as the city of Tartus in Syria.
President Putin emphasized that equipping ships with the most recent upgrades and modern technologies will remain the Navy’s top priority. This echoes recent actions by the Russian Navy, which laid down six new vessels, including two Project 22350 frigates, two multi-purpose Project 885M ‘Yasen-M’ nuclear-powered submarines, and two multi-purpose Project 23900 amphibious assault ships on July 16th. It also follows the recent introduction of the Knyaz Vladimir Borei-A strategic nuclear-powered missile-carrying submarine into the Northern Fleet, as well as plans for two additional nuclear-powered vessels, Project 885M submarine Kazan and 955A Borei-class ballistic missile submarine Knyaz Oleg, to enter into service later this year. Comments by the General Director of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, Yury Slyusar, just announced plans for the first Okhotnik combat drones to enter into service by 2024, which would give Russia unprecedented air capabilities. According to Putin, Russian naval capabilities will only continue to improve, as “forty ships and vessels of various classes will be put into service” and further strengthened by “the widespread deployment of advanced digital technologies that have no equals in the world, including hypersonic strike systems and underwater drones.”
Immediately following Putin’s address, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a successful test-launch of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile. Russia has claimed that its modern nuclear arsenal is “unequaled” and capable of penetrating existing US defense systems with a combination of speed, maneuverability, and altitude. This test followed a controversial June 15th satellite launch in which Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon when a projectile was fired from the main satellite to another ancillary satellite intentionally missing the collision.
Russia is implementing an increasingly expansionary foreign policy, particularly in the Black Sea which is arguably “of even greater strategic value to Moscow than the Baltic region.” From the Black Sea, Russia is well-positioned to defend its assets in Central Europe, the Balkans, Ukraine, and the Russian territory itself. We are undoubtedly engaged in great power competition and “cannot allow for conventional conflict to break out before we start thinking about nuclear deterrence,” especially as reports emerge of Russia’s deployment of nuclear tipped torpedoes. As said by Admiral Richard, we must “focus on the threats in front of us” and “go all the way into the gray zone to deter actions and compete and make sure an adversary doesn’t miscalculate where they believe they can win with a jump in escalation.”
Countering Putin’s plans to destabilize its former Republics, Eastern Europe, and NATO itself must constitute NATO’s number one priority. “We have to respond to a changing world where we see a more assertive Russia, we see a Russia which is investing heavily in new modern capabilities, including new missiles, and we have seen the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said. President Putin will lead from his strength and Russia’s historic strength “Strategic Power” as an equal to the United States to modernize the Russian military and improve its capabilities, as illustrated by the many tests and military exercises the country has conducted, and the parades, which provide a view of what the World should believe it is capable of in President Putin’s eyes. The United States must continue to signal its unwavering support for its allies in the face of this emerging threat and to enable the means with and from our European Allies necessary to strengthen the capabilities and find “common solutions to shared threats” when engaging with our regional allies. One of those critical capabilities is to provide a better strategic deterrence and a sustainable, layered, and integrated missile defense.
“So in the 21st Century, deterrence is more, a lot more, than just nuclear. It’s deterring multiple adversaries in all domains. Strategic deterrence is the highest priority mission in the Department of Defense. It is foundational to our national defense and underpins every US military operation around the world. But this is based on the most fundamental assumption of all of our strategies and plans – the assumption that strategic deterrence will hold. We like to think deterrence will hold, but will it hold in ways we haven’t tested it in before? This assumption is going to be tested in new ways, but I know at the minimum for it to hold, we’re going to need that triad – at a recapitalized triad. We’re gonna need combat ready forces and we’re going to need missile defense.”
As Admiral Richard stated, “we must look at the strategic environment as it is, not what we want it to be.”
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