The Saker — Nov 10, 2017
This article was written for the Unz Review
There are two myths which are deeply imprinted in the minds of most US Americans which are extremely dangerous and which can result in a war with Russia.
- The first myth is the myth of the US military superiority.
- The second myth is the myth about the US invulnerability.
I believe that it is therefore crucial to debunk these myths before they end up costing us millions of lives and untold suffering.
In my latest piece for the Unz Review I discussed the reasons why the US armed forces are nowhere nearly as advanced as the US propaganda machine would have us believe. And even though the article was a discussion of Russian military technologies I only gave one example, in passing, of Russian military technologies by comparing the T-50 PAKFA to the US F-35 (if you want to truly get a feel for the F-35 disaster, please read this and this). First, I am generally reluctant to focus on weapons systems because I strongly believe that, in the vast majority of real-world wars, tactics are far more important than technologies. Second, Andrei Martyanov, an expert on Russian military issues and naval warfare, has recently written two excellent pieces on Russian military technologies (see here and here) which gave many more examples (check out Martyanov’s blog). Having read some of the comments posted under Martyanov’s and my articles, I think that it is important, crucial, in fact, to drive home the message to those who still are thoroughly trained by the propaganda machine to instantly dismiss any notion of US vulnerability or, even more so, technological inferiority. I am under no illusion about the capability of those who still watch the idiot box to be woken out of their lethargic stupor by the warnings of Paul Craig Roberts, William Engdal, Dmitrii Orlov, Andrei Martyanov or myself. But I also think that we have to keep trying, because the war party (the Neocon Uniparty) is apparently trying really hard to trigger a conflict with Russia. So what I propose to do today is to connect the notions of “war with Russia” and “immediate and personal suffering” by showing that if Russia is attacked two of the most sacred symbols of the USA, aircraft carriers and the US mainland itself, would be immediately attacked and destroyed.
The aircraft carriers myth
I have to confess that even during the Cold War I always saw US aircraft carriers as sitting ducks which the Soviets would have rather easily destroyed. I formed that opinion on the basis of my study of Soviet anti-carrier tactics and on the basis of conversations with friends (fellow students) who actually served on US aircraft carriers.
I wish I had the time and space to go into a detailed description of what a Cold War-era Soviet attack on a US aircraft carrier battle group would typically look like, but all I will say is that it would involve swarms of heavy air and sea-launched missiles coming from different directions, some skimming the waves, others dropping down from very high altitude, all at tremendous speeds, combined with more underwater-launched missiles and even torpedoes. All of these missiles would be “intelligent” and networked with each other: they would be sharing sensor data, allocating targets (to avoid duplication), using countermeasures, receiving course corrections, etc. These missiles would be launched at standoff distances by supersonic bombers or by submerged submarines. The targeting would involve space-based satellites and advanced naval reconnaissance technologies. My USN friends were acutely aware of all this and they were laughing at their own official US propaganda (Reagan was in power then) which claimed that the USN would “bring the war to the Russians” by forward deploying carriers. In direct contrast, my friends all told me that the first thing the USN would do is immediately flush all the carriers away from the North Atlantic and into the much safer waters south of the so-called GUIK gap. So here is the ugly truth: carriers are designed to enforce the rule of the AngloZionist Empire on small and basically defenseless nations (like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq). Nobody in the USN, at least not in the late 1980s, seriously considered forward deploying aircraft carrier battle groups near the Kola Peninsula to “bring the war to the Russians”. That was pure propaganda. The public did not know that, but USN personnel all knew the truth.
[Sidebar: if the topic of carrier survivability is of interest to you, please check out this Russian article translated by a member of our community which is a pretty typical example of how the Russian don’t believe for one second that US carriers are such hard targets to destroy]
What was true then is even truer today and I can’t imagine anybody at the Pentagon seriously making plans to attack Russia with carrier-based aviation. But even if the USN has no intention of using its carriers against Russia, that does not mean that the Russians cannot actively seek out US carriers and destroy them, even very far from Russia. After all, even if they are completely outdated for a war between superpowers, carriers still represent fantastically expensive targets whose symbolic value remains immense. The truth is that US carriers are the most lucrative target any enemy could hope for: (relatively) small, (relatively) easy to destroy, distributed in many locations around the globe – US carriers are almost “pieces of the USA, only much closer”.
Introducing the Zircon 3M22 hypersonic missile
First, some basic data about this missile (from English and Russian Wikipedia):
- Low-level range: 135 to 270 nautical miles (155 to 311mi; 250 to 500km).
- High level range: 400nmi (460mi; 740km) in a semi-ballistic trajectory.
- Max range: 540nmi (620mi; 1,000km)
- Max altitude: 40km (130’000 feet)
- Average range is around 400km (250mi; 220nmi)/450 km.
- Speed: Mach 5–Mach 6 (3,806–4,567mph; 6,125–7,350km/h; 1.7015–2.0417km/s).
- Max speed: Mach 8 (6,090mph; 9,800km/h; 2.7223km/s) during a test.
- Warhead: 300-400kg (high explosive or nuclear)
- Shape: low-RCS with radar absorbing coating.
- Cost per missile: 1-2 million dollars (depending on configuration)
All this is already very impressive, but here comes the single most important fact about this missile: it can be launched from pretty much *any* platform: cruisers, of course, but also frigates and even small corvettes. It can be launched by nuclear and diesel-electric attack submarines. It can also be launched from long range bombers (Tu-160), medium-range bombers (Tu-22m3), medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft (SU-34) and even, according to some reports, from multi-role air superiority fighter (SU-35). Finally, this missile can also be shore-based. In fact, this missile can be launched from any platform capable of launching the now famous Kalibr cruise missile and that means that even a merchant marine or fishing ship could carry a container with the Zircon missile hidden inside. In plain English what this means is the following:
- Russia has a missile which cannot be stopped or spoofed by any of the current and foreseeable USN anti-missile weapons systems.
- This missile can be deployed *anywhere* in the world on *any* platform.
Let me repeat this again: pretty much any Russian ship and pretty much any Russian aircraft from now on will have the potential capability of sinking a US aircraft carrier. In the past, such capabilities were limited to specific ships (Slava class), submarines (Oscar class) or aircraft (Backfires). The Soviets had a large but limited supply of such platforms and they were limited to where they could deploy them. This era is now over. From now on a swarm of Zircon 3M22 could appear anywhere on the planet at any moment and with no warning time (5000 miles per hour incoming speed does not leave the target anything remotely comparable to even a short reaction time). In fact, the attack could be so rapid that it might not even leave the target the time needed to indicate that it is under attack.
None of the above is a big secret, by the way. Just place “zircon missile” in your favorite search engine and you will get a lot of hits (131’000 on Google; 190’000 on Bing). In fact, a lot of specialists have declared that the Zircon marks the end of the aircraft carrier as a platform of modern warfare. These claims are widely exaggerated. As I have written above, aircraft carriers are ideal tools to terrify, threaten, bully and otherwise attack small, defenseless countries. Even medium-sized countries would have a very hard time dealing with an attack coming from US aircraft carriers. So I personally think that as long as the world continues to use the US dollar and, therefore, as long as the US economy continues to rely on creating money out of thin air and spending it like there is no tomorrow, aircraft carriers still have a bright, if morally repulsive, future ahead of them. And, of course, the USN will not use carriers to threaten Russia. Again, the US press has been rather open about the carrier-killing potential of the Zircon, but what it rarely (never?) mentions is the political and strategic consequence from the deployment of the Zircon: from now on Russia will have an easy and very high-value US target she can destroy anytime she wants. You can think of the US carrier fleet like 10 US hostages which the Russians can shoot at any time. And what is crucial is this: an attack on a US carrier would not be an attack on the US homeland, nor would it be a nuclear attack, but the psychological shock resulting from such an attack could well be comparable to a (limited) nuclear strike on the US homeland.
This, on one hand, will greatly inhibit the Russian willingness to strike at US carriers as this would expose Russia to very severe retaliatory measures (possibly including nuclear strikes). On the other hand, however, in terms of “escalation dominance” this state of affairs gives a major advantage to Russia as the US does not have any Russian targets with an actual and symbolic value similar to the one of a US carrier.
There is another aspect of this issue which is often ignored. Western analysts often speak of a Russian strategy of “deterrence by denial” and “Anti-Access Area Denial” (A2AD). Mostly this is the kind of language which gets you a promotion and a pay raise in US and NATO think tanks. Still, there is a grain of truth to the fact that advanced Russian missiles are now providing Russia with a very cheap way to threaten even fantastically expensive US assets. Worse, Russia is willing (eager, in fact) to export these (relatively cheap) missiles to other countries. I find it amusing to see how US politicians are in a state of constant hysteria about the risk of nuclear proliferation, but fail to realize that conventional anti-ship missiles are a formidable, and much more likely, threat. Sure, there are missile export limiting treaties, such as the MTCR, but they only apply to a missile with a range of over 300km. With modern ballistic and cruise missiles becoming smaller, deadlier and easier to conceal and with ranges which are (relatively) easy to extend, treaties such as the MTCR are becoming increasingly outdated.
The bottom line is this: as long as deterrence holds, attacking US carriers makes no sense whatsoever for Russia; however, as soon as deterrence fails, attacking US carriers, anywhere on the planet, gives Russia an extremely flexible and powerful escalation dominance capability which the US cannot counter in kind.
Striking at the Holy of Holies – the US “homeland”
If you thought that discussing striking US carriers was bad, here we are going to enter full “Dr Strangelove” territory and discuss something which US Americans find absolutely unthinkable: attacks on the US homeland. True, for the rest of mankind, any war by definition includes the very real possibility of attacks on your own towns, cities and people. But for US Americans who are used to mete out violence and death far away from their own peaceful towns and cities, the notion of a devastating strike against the US homeland is pretty much unthinkable. On 9/11 the loss of 3000 innocent people placed the vast majority of US Americans into a total state of shock which resulted in a massive over-reaction at all levels (which was, of course, exactly the purpose of this false flag operation by the US and Israeli deep states). Just as with carriers, the dangers of a US over-reaction should serve as a deterrent to any attacks on the US homeland. But, just as with the carriers, that is only true as long as deterrence holds. If the Russian territory becomes the object of a US attack this would clearly indicate that deterrence has failed and that the Russian armed forces should now switch from a deterrence mode to a war-fighting mode. At this point, the US American over-reaction to begin attacked or taking casualties could, paradoxically, result in a last-minute wake-up call indicating to everybody that what will come next will be truly devastating.
Introducing the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Though officially very little is know about the Sarmat and the Yu-71, the reality is that the Internet has been full of educated guesses which give us a pretty clear idea of what kind of systems we are dealing here.
You can think of the RS-28 Sarmat as a successor of the already formidable RS-36 Voevoda (SS-18 Satan in US classification) missile: it is a heavy, very powerful, intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (warheads):
- Weight: 100 tons
- Payload: 10 tons
- Warheads: 10 to 15
- Hypersonic glide vehicles: 3-24 (that’s the Yu-71 we will discuss below)
- Range: 10’000km
- Guidance: Inertial, satellite, astrocelestial
- Trajectory: FOBS-capable
That last line, about being FOBS-capable, is crucial as it means that, unlike most Soviet/Russian ICBMs, the Sarmat does not have to fly over the North Pole to strike at the United States. In fact, the Sarmat could fly over the South Pole or, for that matter, in any direction and still reach any target in the USA. Right there this capability is, by itself, is more than enough to defeat any current and foreseeable US anti-ballistic missile technology. But it gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective: the Sarmat’s reentry vehicles/warheads are capable of flying in low orbit, maneuver, and then suddenly plunge towards their targets. The only way to defeat such an attack would be to protect the USA by a 3600 coverage capable ABM system, something which the USA is decades away from deploying. And just to add to these already formidable characteristics, each Sarmat can carry up to 3-24 (depending on who you ask) Yu-71 hypersonic glide vehicles.
Introducing The Yu-71 (aka “Object 4202) hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV)
Yet again, this is hardly a topic not covered in the media and you can find numerous articles describing what a hypersonic glide vehicle is and how it can be used. (the best article I could find in English was by Global Security, it is entitled “Objekt 4202 / Yu-71 / Yu-74”).
Here is a summary of what we think we know about this HGV:
- Max Speed: from Mach 5, according to Scott Ritter, to Mach 9, according to a quasi official Russian source, to Mach 15, acccording to Sputnik, to Mach 20 (that’s 7 kilometres per second, or 25’200kh/h, or 15’000mph), according to Global Security. Whatever the true speed, it will be fantastic and far, far beyond the kind of speeds current or foreseeable US anti-missile systems could hope to engage.
- Hypermaneuverability: Russian sources describe the Yu-71 as “сверхманевренная боеголовка” or “hyper-manoeuvrable warhead”. What that exactly means in turns of sustained Gs does not really matter as this is not about air-to-air combat, but about the ability to perform sudden course changes making it close to impossible for anti-missile systems to calculate an engagement solution.
- Warhead: nuclear and conventional/kinetic.
That last line is very interesting. What it means is that considering the speeds attained by the Yu-71 HGV it is not necessary to equip it with a conventional (high explosive) or nuclear warhead. The kinetic energy generated by its high speed is sufficient to create an explosion similar to what a large conventional or small nuclear warhead could generate.
Bringing it all together now
Did you notice the similarities between the Zircon missile and the Sarmat+Yu-71 combo?
In both cases we have:
- an attack which can come from any direction
- speed of attack and maneuver capabilities which make interception impossible
- the capability for Russia to destroy a very high-value US target in a very short time
It is amazing to see that while US decision makers were talking about their Prompt Global Strike program, the Russians actually developed their own version of this capability, much faster than the USA and at a fraction of the cost.
These are all ideal ways to “bring the war home” and to encourage a country which enjoyed total impunity for its policies to being seriously thinking about the consequences of messing around with the wrong people.
To make things even more potentially dangerous for the USA, the very same geography which protected the USA for so long is now becoming a major vulnerability. Currently, 39% of the US population lives in counties directly on the shoreline. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties (source). In 2010 the US Census Bureau produced a fascinating report entitled “Coastline Population Trends in the United States: 1960 to 2008” which shows that the coastal counties provide an “intense concentration of economic and social activity”. In fact, a very large number of US cities, industrial centers and economic hubs are located near the USA coastline making them all *ideal* targets for Russian conventional cruise missile strikes which could be launched from very long distances (including over open water). And we are not talking about some future, hypothetical, cruise missile, we are talking about the very same Kalibr cruise missiles the Russians have been using against the Takfiris in Syria. Check out this very well made video which explains how Kalibr cruise missiles can be hidden pretty much anywhere and used with devastating effect on military and/or civilian targets:
The reality is that the US homeland is extremely vulnerable to any kind of attack. This is only in part due to recent Russian advances in military technology. For example, the “just on time” manufacturing or delivery practices which are aimed to minimize costs and inventory are, from a strategic/military point of view, extremely dangerous as it takes very little disruption (for example in the distribution network) to create catastrophic consequences. Likewise, the high concentration of some industries in specific areas of the United States (oil in the Mexican Gulf) only serves to further weaken the ability of the United State to take any kind of punishment in case of war.
Most TV watching Americans will dismiss all of the above by saying that “anybody come mess with us and we will kick their ass” or something equally sophisticated. And there is some truth to that. But what this mindset also indicate is a complete mental inability to operate in a scenario when deterrence has failed and the “other guy” is coming for you. That mindset is the prerogative of civilians. Those tasked with the defence of their country simply cannot think that way and have to look beyond the “threshold of deterrence”. They will be the one asked to fix the bloody mess once the civilians screw-up. Georges Clemenceau reportedly once said that “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”. I believe that the exact opposite is true, that war is too serious a matter to entrust to civilians, especially the US Neocons (the vast majority of whom have never spent any time in uniform) and who always make it sound like the next war will be easy, safe and painless. Remember Ken Adleman and his famous Iraqi “cakewalk”? The very same kind of scum is in power today and they want us to believe that the next war will also be a cakewalk or that being on a high-speed collision course with Russia is something the USA can afford and should, therefore, engage in. The combined effect of the myth of US military superiority with the myth about the US invulnerability results in a US American sense of detachment, or even impunity, which is not at all supported by fact. I just fervently hope that the people of the USA will not find out how mistaken they are the hard way.
In the meantime, the Russian Chief of General Staff, General Gerasimov, has announced that Russia had completed what he called a “non-nuclear deterrence system” based on the Iskander-M, Kalibr and X-101 missiles. According to General Gerasimov, the Russian armed forces now have enough high-precision weapon systems to strike at any target within a 4000km range. Furthermore, Gerasimov declared that the number of platforms capable of launching such missiles has increased twelve times while the number of high precision cruise missiles has increased by a factor 30. General Gerasimov also explained that the combined capabilities of the Kalibr cruise missile, the Bastion mobile coastal defense missile system and the S-400 air defense system made it possible for Russia to fully control the airspace and surface of the Baltic, Barents, Black and Mediterranean seas (talk about A2AD!). Gerasimov concluded his briefing by saying “the development of high-precision weapons has made it possible to place the main burden of strategic deterrence from nuclear to non-nuclear forces”.
To fully evaluate the implications of what Gerasimov said please consider this: deterrence is, by definition, the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences. So what Gerasimov is really saying is that Russia has enough conventional, non-nuclear, capabilities to inflict unacceptable consequences upon the USA. This is something absolutely new, a fundamental game changer. Most importantly, that is the official declaration by a senior Russian official that the USA does not have any technological superiority and that the USA is vulnerable to a devastating counter-attack, even a conventional one. In one short sentence, General Gerasimov has put to rest the two most important myths of US geostrategic theory.
Keep in mind that, unlike their US counterparts, the Russians typically like to under-evaluate Russian military capabilities. You will find the Russia media bragging about how “totally awesome and best in the world” Russian weapons systems are, but military personnel in Russia still has a corporate culture of secrecy and under-reporting your real capabilities to the enemy. Furthermore, while junior officers can say pretty much anything they want, senior officers are held to very strict rules and they have to carefully weigh every word they say, especially acting officers. So when the Chief of Staff officially declares that Russia now has a conventional strategic deterrence capability – you can take that to the bank. It’s real.
Alas, the western media is still stuck in the “full idiot” mode we saw during the transit of the Russian aircraft carrier from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean: on one hand, the Admiral Kuznetsov was presented as a rusty old bucket while on the other NATO forces constantly shadowed it as if it was about to strike London. Likewise, US politicians present Russia as a “gas station” while, at the same time, stating that this “gas station” has the capability to decide who lives in the White House. This kind of reporting is not only unhelpful but outright dangerous. One one hand the “the Russians are backward brutes” fosters an arrogant and cocky attitude. On the other hand, constantly speaking about fake Russian threats results in a very dangerous case of “cry wolf” in which all possible Russian threats (including very real ones) are dismissed as pure propaganda. The reality is, of course, very different and simple in a binary way: Russia represents absolutely no threat to the United States or anybody else (including the three Baltic statelets). But if some western politician decides that he is smarter and stronger than Napoleon or Hitler and that he will finally bring the Russians to their knees, then he and his country will be destroyed. It is really that simple.