While press attention on developments in Russia focused on the disputed parliamentary elections and the following protests, which seemed to revive political activism in Moscow and other urban centers, there have been some military developments that deserve some attention. One such theme is an old topic, sixth generation warfare and its impact upon the nuclear threshold – do advanced conventional systems, which approach nuclear effects, blur the line on nuclear deterrence? The Russian press has had several recent articles that suggest this issue is becoming more acute.
In the aftermath of Desert Storm in 1991, the late Major-General Vladimir Slipchenko coined the phrase “sixth generation warfare” to refer to the “informatization” of conventional warfare and the development of precision strike systems which could make the massing of forces in the conventional sense an invitation to disaster and demand the development of the means to mass effects through depth to fight systems versus systems warfare. Slipchenko looked back at Ogarkov’s “revolution in military affairs” with “weapons based on new physical principles” and saw “Desert Storm” as a first indication of the appearance of such capabilities. He did not believe that sixth generation warfare had yet manifested its full implications (Vladimir Slipchenko, Voina budushchego. Moscow: Moskovskii Obshchestvennyi Nauchnyi Fond, 1999).
However, Slipchenko did believe that sixth generation warfare would replace fifth generation warfare, which he identified as thermonuclear war, and had evolved into a strategic stalemate, making nuclear first use an inevitable road to destruction (from the end of the Soviet Union until his death in 2005, he had analyzed combat experience abroad to further refine his conception until he began to speak of the emergence of “no-contact warfare” as the optimal form for sixth generation warfare; Vladimir Slipchenko, Beskontaktnye voiny. Moscow: Izdatel’skii dom: Gran-Press,” 2001). In his final volume, Slipchenko redefined sixth generation warfare as involving the capacity to conduct distant, no-contact operations and suggested that such conflict would demand major military reforms. Slipchenko made a compelling case for the enhanced role of C4ISR in conducting such operations (Vladimir Slipchenko,Voina novogo pokoleniia: Distantsionnye i beskontaktaktnye, Moscow: OLMA-Press, 2004).
There was considerable debate among Russian specialists about sixth generation warfare and the applicability of the term. General Makhmut Gareev and Slipchenko even debated its utility in 2005 (Makhmut Gareev and Vladimir Slipchenko, Budushchaia voina, Moscow; OGI, 2005). Since Slipchenko’s death it has continued to be used and refined. In 2010, the term was employed by Mikhail Rastopshin to criticize those demanding higher combat readiness when the Russian Armed Forces were not even close to being prepared to conduct modern combat operations. The US and NATO forces were armed with the instruments of sixth generation warfare and Russia’s were not. Rastopshin accused Voennaya Mysl’ the leading military publication on military theory of being behind the times, not appreciating the demands of sixth generation warfare and providing poor advice to the Russian General Staff as it sought to bring the “new look” to life (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 12, 2010).
In the absence of advanced conventional systems to conduct “distant, no-contact warfare” the Russian military has placed greater reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons to de-escalate local wars on Russia’s periphery. Recent press coverage has brought the issue of sixth generation warfare back into public attention. Viktor Miasnikov, defense correspondent with Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, published a year-end column on the ten major military events of 2011. Among the events he listed, Miasnikov included a wide range of topics of a political-military and technical nature, including: the changes in regimes loyal to the US in association with the Arab Spring; the War in Libya and NATO’s role in it; problems affecting US/NATO-Russia relations with regard to the deployment of European Missile Defense; Russia’s completion of the deployment of GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System); the end of the civil war in the Ivory Coast; the beginning of the reform of the Bundeswehr,involving a shift to a volunteer force prepared to conduct anti-terrorist and expeditionary operations; the US successful tests of its first hyper-sonic weapon, the Falcon HTV-2; the prisoner exchange that freed Israeli Corporal Gilad Schalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners; US Special Forces liquidating Osama bin Laden; and Iran’s capturing the US advanced reconnaissance drone –RQ-170. With regard to future war, missile defense, GLONASS, hypersonic global strike weapons, and the captured drone all are aspects of sixth generation warfare. Missile defense has been billed by its proponents as dealing with early ballistic missiles in the hands of rogue states, but Russian objections speak of the use of such a system to undermine the deterrent value of Russian offensive strategic nuclear weapons. The successful completion of GLONASS and its modernization, which had been a high priority of the Putin administration, finally put Russia on the road to having a global positioning system to support precision-strike systems. The successful testing of Falcon HTV-2, a hypersonic vehicle deploying from a ballistic missile, engaging in hypersonic maneuver and delivering a conventional precision-strike package on target was an important step toward the US Conventional Prompt Global Strike capability, the very embodiment of distant, no-contact warfare. On the Iranian capture of the RQ-170 reconnaissance drone “Sentinel,” Miasnikov noted that the drone had been brought down by non-kinetic means, while the Iranians intended to study the drone’s systems, and that it could not be excluded that Russian and Chinese experts would gain access to what the Iranians discover.
Miasnikov wrote an extended column on GLONASS’ completion. He had written an article on the status of the program in late 2007, and saw it as more hope than reality. Then there were only 18 satellites in place, and of those only 13 were functioning. Miasnikov said at that time that GLONASS had no boss, no program for the development of the land-based components of GLONASS and that no one was responsible for it. Four years later, GLONASS has deployed 31 satellites of which 23 are functioning. Its ground systems are fully operational, and GLONASS now provides global coverage. As Miasnikov makes clear, progress was not slow and steady. The appearance of a more advanced satellite, the GLONASS- K, extended satellite life expectancy and greatly reduced the mass that had to be placed in orbit. While there was much attention to the deployment of the satellites, there was less focus on the development of the ground-based systems, and who would be the systems’ consumers. One of the major obstacles was the penchant for security, which made marketing the capability slow until the project’s Director Yury Urlichich began to press for the development of a market for navigational services. This involved embracing the mass media to develop demand (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 30, 2011).
Miasnikov concludes that: “An open information policy became an important factor in the success of the entire GLONASS Program.” Moreover, Urlichich pressed for an approach that emphasized system integration and reliability. The competition was the existing US GPS system and the target was to make GLONASS truly competitive, and Miasnikov considers GLONASS well on the way to that objective (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 30, 2011).
Miasnikov in addition to his column on the ten major military events of the past year also authored a book review of Andrei Kokshin’s Problemy obespecheniia strategicheskoi stabil’nosti: Teoreticheskie i prikladnye voprosy [Problems of Strategic Stability: Theoretical and Practical Issues]. In his introduction, Miasnikov pointed to the underlying reality of nuclear deterrence: “the most expensive weapons are not intended for use in a real war.” Miasnikov points to Kokoshin’s credentials as a defense scholar and statesman and attributed to him the development of Topol M and the R-29MU2 “Lainer” multiple warhead, liquid-fueled SLBM, which was successfully tested in 2011 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, December 30, 2011).
Kokoshin, like most other strategic thinkers, views nuclear weapons as a major component of strategic stability in the contemporary world. They cannot be used in practice as military means to achieve political ends, but only virtually to deter others from acting. The chief risks associated with nuclear weapons are accidental or unsanctioned use. “The cost of a mistake in such situations assumed a global scale,” Kokoshin notes as examines all aspects of the nuclear issues facing humanity and engages in a forecast of various scenarios for the development of nuclear weapons and the ways that could be used to neutralize their negative tendencies. This includes the threat of terrorist use of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials.
Miasnikov finds Kokoshin’s chapter XV devoted to “Reflections on Some Hypothetical Measures for the Modernization of the Structure and Composition of Russia’s S[trategic] N[uclear] F[orces] and the Improvement of Their Combat Survivability.” Since strategic stability involves both multilateral and individual actions by states, Kokoshin called on Russian science and expert opinion to work out on a conceptual basis various models for the use of armed forces by all sides and political-military relations, interacting without the direct use of military power. One example of such a course of action was the asymmetric decision to develop Topol-M in response to the US Strategic Defense Initiative. Topol-M was a breakthrough weapon developed under the most difficult circumstances, and involves major innovations in ICBM technology. Its flight-test program was one of steady successes. Kokoshin emphasizes the advanced technologies that make Topol-M into a weapon to counter missile defense systems, including the capacity of its warhead to engage in terminal phase maneuvers. Similar progress in quieting submarines increased the survivability of submarines and reduced the value of US ASW sonar barriers. Likewise the small, solid-fueled, multi-warhead, mobile ICBM Kur’er prototype of the 1980s, which provided the basis for the short-range ballistic missile Iskander and the development, could now be developed as an ICBM. Russia could also re-examine at the Kop’e-R small, liquid-fueled, multiple-warhead ICBM developed by Iuzhnoe Design Bureau. Kokoshin also sees room for Russia to retain a small number of heavy, liquid-fueled, ICBMs with maneuvering warheads in well-protected silos with the construction of additional dummy silos to confuse the enemy. One more component Kokoshin considered ready for development were air-launched ICBMs, which could be taken aloft aboard transport aviation.
Miasnikov stated that the book will appeal to Russian and foreign developers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, military leaders and stated that readers would be particularly impressed by the large collection of illustrations covering strategic nuclear weapons systems, missile complexes, including air defense and anti-missile defense systems.
What ties all these themes together is the notion of the transformation of warfare. Russia is not a passive observer of these developments. The importance of the US testing the Falcon HTV-2 is that it provides proof for the concept of hypersonic weapons with advanced conventional warheads. Russia is also moving in that direction. In July 2011, an article addressing naval innovation in research and development of weapons identified kinetic-strike and hypersonic weapons as a key research field (Morskoi Sbornik, No. 7, July 2011).
At the same time, Russia and India have been working jointly on the development of an advanced version of the stealth, supersonic Brahmas cruise missile. BrahMos-2, which is to have a speed of 6,000 km/hour and a range of 290 km, will be designed for air launch by the advanced Su-30 fighter. In October 2011, Russian sources reported that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place this year (Vzglyad, October 10, 2011). In December 2011, the Skolkovo Fund identified one of its first development projects with clear military implications for an innovation award: “Experimental Approbation of a Plasma Method of Rapid Ignition of Hypersonic Air-Hydrocarbon Streams,” which refers to the development a hypersonic engine for a hypersonic cruise missile. The author points out that the only current applications for hypersonic flight are military and involve speeds in excess of 5,000 km/hour (Izvestiya, December 15, 2011).
The news about the possible sharing by Iran of the technology from the RQ-170 stealth drone, which they captured, can mean accelerated progress for both Russia and China in this field. Finally, the full deployment GLONASS to provide global coverage means that Russia’s aerospace defense force has its own global navigation system, something which the US achieved with the deployment of Navstar GPS, which became fully operational in 1994. From a Russian military perspective, 2011 carried sixth generation warfare several steps forward. Russia seems committed to investing in these areas, which will define strategic stability in this new era.
–Jacob W. Kipp
Jamestown Foundation, 9(17), January 25, 2012.
Phi Beta Iota: Emphasis added.