General: U.S. Nukes Still ‘Credible’ Against Russian Missile Defenses

A Russian S-400 air-defense interceptor launcher. U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. Robert Kehler on Wednesday minimized concern about how U.S. nuclear deterrence might be affected by Russia's pursuit of a next-generation missile defense capability that could enable Moscow to neutralize launched ICBMs (AP Photo).
A Russian S-400 air-defense interceptor launcher. U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. Robert Kehler on Wednesday minimized concern about how U.S. nuclear deterrence might be affected by Russia's pursuit of a next-generation missile defense capability that could enable Moscow to neutralize launched ICBMs (AP Photo).

WASHINGTON -- The four-star head of U.S. Strategic Command on Wednesday said he is not worried that Russia’s efforts to develop a next-generation missile interceptor system will weaken the credibility of Washington’s nuclear deterrent force.

Russia has boasted that the S-500, when complete, will have capabilities to stop launched ballistic missiles that surpass those of equivalent U.S. interceptors.

The time frame for deployment of the new system has changed several times. However, according to the most recent claims made a year ago by the Russian military, it could happen as early as this year.

“That particular item doesn’t overly concern me,” Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler said at a Capitol Hill breakfast event, in response to an audience question. “I believe that our deterrent force is credible, and will remain credible in the face of their defensive system.”

The mobile, surface-to-air antimissile system “is currently being developed to have the capability of destroying supersonic aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. … the S-500 will be designed to combat intercontinental ballistic missiles,” according to the George C. Marshall and Claremont Institutes’ Missile Threat website. It is an enhanced version of the S-400, which was first deployed in 2007.

Russian Weapons developer Almaz-Antey, however, in February 2012 hinted that management problems and difficulties with the cutting-edge technology could mean work on the system is not finished until 2017.

“Since the end of the Cold War, we don’t view Russia as our enemy,” Kehler said. He added that Russia will make decisions on its missile defense development “on behalf of their national security interests, just like we do.”

The general was responding to a question raised by Greg Thielmann, senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, on whether Russia’s pursuit of the S-500 and other advanced strategic antimissile systems is worrisome to the United States.

Thielmann subsequently told Global Security Newswire that Kehler’s response confirmed for him that Strategic Command officials are “confident in their ability” to penetrate present and future Russian strategic missile defense.

Russia and the United States both hold enough nuclear weapons that, to date,  have allowed each to remain confident that they could overwhelm the other’s ballistic missile defenses, which employ a much smaller quantity of interceptors.

Additionally, each country is presumed to have equipped their long-range ballistic missiles with abilities to penetrate and confuse an opponent’s defensive systems, Thielmann noted. These are likely to include the use of decoys to confuse antimissile sensors as to the location of the actual warhead in flight.

“I think what I get concerned about is that there are only a couple of countries in the world that could destroy the United States. I don’t think they have any intent to do it … but the capability exists,” Kehler said. “And so I remain concerned about our need to ensure that day never comes. I believe that we can deter that.”

The general also emphasized that U.S. missile defenses do not threaten Russia’s deterrence force, something that continues to draw doubts in Moscow.

“Our missile defense system in its orientation and in its capacity is not capable of threatening the Russian retaliatory force,” the strategic commander said.

“The U.S. has not figured out how to discriminate against decoys so the thing that Gen. Kehler conceded is that our systems cannot defend against Russian missiles” and vice versa, Thielmann said.

June 12, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- The four-star head of U.S. Strategic Command on Wednesday said he is not worried that Russia’s efforts to develop a next-generation missile interceptor system will weaken the credibility of Washington’s nuclear deterrent force.

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