Does the ballistic missile come back from the ashes?

During the Cold War, the ballistic missile, whether or not it had nuclear warheads, was considered a benchmark unit for determining a country's military power. At that time, there was no system capable of effectively intercepting this type of missile, the mere possession of which therefore posed an existential threat to all the States entering the range of the missile. It is for this reason that two of the main crises of this period, the Cuban crisis in 1962, and that of the Euromissiles in 1983, resulted from the deployment of these devices close to state borders.

With the entry into service at the end of the 80s of new generation anti-aircraft systems, such as the American Patriot, this threat quickly waned, because the systematism it engendered disappeared with the deployment of anti-aircraft batteries. American missiles. Thus, during the First Gulf War, the mere deployment of Patriot missile batteries was enough to prevent Tel Aviv from retaliating against Scud missile attacks from Iraq. In the post-Cold War years, anti-missile systems improved and extended their interception capabilities against missiles of greater range. This is how the THAAD appeared in the United States, and the new versions of the Patriot, as well as the SM3 and SM6 missiles of the AEGIS onboard system. Together, these systems were capable of neutralizing much of the short and medium range missiles that could be launched against the United States, its forces, and its allies. In addition, the United States deployed a very large number of Tomahawk cruise missiles on its naval and submarine platforms, so as to be able, if necessary, to eliminate the launchers in a first strike, as well as the anti- air, freeing up the spaces necessary for the deployment of its air power. The short and medium range ballistic missile seemed at this time doomed to join the ranks of weapon systems made obsolete by technological progress.

The THAAD System has long been considered as the missile and medium range ballistic missile parry

But as often, certainties and the status quo have favored the emergence of new technologies intended to supplant these defenses. This is how the Russian missile 9M723K1, better known under the name Iskander, or SS-N-26 Stone for NATO, appeared. This new tactical missile, with a range voluntarily limited to 490 km to comply with the clauses of the INF Treaty, used a new flight path, known as quasi-ballistic, more tense than those of traditional short and medium range ballistic missiles. In addition, most of the flight takes place at an altitude of 60 km, positioning itself perfectly between the ceiling of the Patriot at 60 km and the floor of the THAAD, which is 70 km away. The missile is also capable of maneuvering in flight, in a way that is difficult to predict. In fact, the interception of this missile quickly became problematic for US anti-missile defense. But relations with Moscow being good in 1995, there was no question of being alarmed for all that.

The second alert, much more serious this time, came when President Putin presented the new strategic vectors developed by Russia during the Russian presidential campaign, in March 2018. A new missile, the Kh57M2 ​​Kinzhal, swept away all American certainties in the matter. effectiveness of the anti-missile shield. Airborne, the missile was at the same time hypersonic, maneuvering, and evolved in the fringe of altitude of the Iskander, from which it is derived. In addition, its range, exceeding 2000 km according to Moscow, would allow it to strike all the important NATO targets east of a London Paris axis, without the Mig-31 which wins having to leave Russian airspace. In other words, neither the Patriot PaC-3 recently bought with a great deal of billions of euros by 4 European countries, nor the THAAD, nor even the missiles of the Aegis systems installed on the anti-aircraft frigates of several navies of the United States. NATO, are unable to stop this missile. Even the very promising Aster 30 Block1NT would seem to be incapable of it, at least in the state of the specifications.

The Kinjhal missile is airlifted by a specially modified Mig31 aircraft

At the same time, Russia has developed a new generation of anti-missile systems, the S500 which, coupled with the anti-aircraft systems S400, S350, Buk, Tor, Sosna and Pantsir, would be able to provide very effective protection against NATO strikes against strategic installations and Russian forces, whether by cruise missiles, or air attacks. For the first time in three decades, NATO was losing the assurance of having air superiority against its adversary, such as being able to protect its device in depth against targeted strikes.

Since then, both the US Army and the US Air Force have launched several programs aimed at developing hypersonic missiles capable, also of defying Russian anti-aircraft defense, the abandonment of the INF treaty having lifted the constraints that could still exist. against these weapon systems. In addition, many anti-missile defense programs have emerged, in particular based on laser systems, in an attempt to face this threat, which affects both land and naval forces, with Russia developing the hypersonic anti-missile missile. Tzirkhon vessel 3M22, which is due to enter service in 2021.

China has developed a significant number of ballistic missiles, some of which are dedicated to anti-ship warfare, such as the DF-26

In addition, the fault revealed by Iskander and Kinjhal made many emulators, in China obviously, but also in Iran, and more recently, in North Korea, whose last missile fire had for only object only to show that it, too, had missiles capable of defying the American anti-missile shield deployed in Guam, Japan and South Korea.

One thing is certain, in just a few years, the short and medium range ballistic missile has risen from its ashes, to once again establish itself as one of the strategic weapon systems in military arsenals. In addition to the United States, China and Russia, India, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Ukraine, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have announced that they are developing systems for this guy. If it's not an arms race, it still looks a lot like it. On the other hand, no European program aiming to develop this type of weapon system is currently underway.

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