Russia Deploys SSC 8 Cruise Missile in Apparent Violation of the INF Treaty: Bad Omen for Arms Control

12/8/1987 President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in the East Room

News on missiles, missile testing, nuclear programmes and the like is coming so thick and fast that it’s getting hard to keep up.

Not a good sign.

And nor is the latest news a good sign for the INF Treaty. According to a, credible, report in The New York Times Russia has deployed a battalion of SSC 8 cruise missiles into the field, at a place not disclosed in the report, with another battalion remaining stationed at the Kapustin Yar test range.

The INF Treaty, signed between Reagan and Gorbachev, prohibits Moscow and Washington from developing and deploying ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 km.

Previously, the US had accused Moscow of having a development and testing programme for the SSC 8, prohibited by the INF Treaty, and convened a meeting of the INF Treaty’s special verification commission.

Moscow has gone ahead and deployed the SSC 8 regardless. We don’t know much about the Russian violation as Washington has not released a great deal of information publicly, but some things we can infer.

The SSC 8 appears to be the land based variant of the SS-N-30 Kalibr sea launched cruise missile, which has a range of 1,500 to 2,500km and a 450kg payload. It appears that the SSC 8 will be launched from the same TEL as the Iskander missile.

According to the New York Times each battalion, i.e. the one deployed and the one at the Kapustin Yar test range, has four TELs and six “nuclear tipped missiles.”

We really don’t know, from public domain data, whether the SSC 8 cruise missiles have a nuclear payload. This is an inference based on the supposition that the SSC 8 is nuclear capable. The SSC 8 could be used for conventional precise strike missions, especially on what Moscow’s military planners call the southern front, but regardless the SSC 8 still violates the INF treaty.

The Russians for a long time have grumbled about the INF treaty, from before Putin, and the southern front was one of the main sources of concern. Turkey, for instance, has just announced its own indigenous missile programme. According to a report by Jane’s earlier in the month

Turkey has made public it has been developing a long-range surface-to-surface missile system called ‘Bora’ (Storm).
The Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) stated that the Project ‘B’ missile system had been developed by Roketsan in order to “meet the long range surface-to-surface missile requirement of the Turkish Land Forces Command [TLFC] through local design and production.”

Franklin Miller has argued, as cited by the NY Times, that the SSC 8 could be used to free up Russia’s strategic forces for exclusive targeting of the US. But this too assumes that the SSC 8 has a nuclear payload. Until we learn more we are just speculating.

A very good, and important, fact sheet on this was just released by the Arms Control Association. This gets things right. It would be unfortunate if the reported INF treaty violation puts additional strain on New START, and leads to the end of strategic arms control as many hawks doubtless would like it to do.

Russia should dismantle the SSC8 cruise missile programme and return to the INF treaty.

For those of us interested in arms control the INF treaty is a favourite. It justly can be said to have paved the road leading to the end of the cold war, and it *eliminated* a whole class of strategic weapons.

If the INF treaty does not survive this Russian violation it would be a sad reflection of the current state of arms control.

We have seen the end of the ABM treaty, the US withdrew, pressure on the CFE, the NPT is under strain with attempts to defacto recognise India as nuclear weapons state, ascendant hawks seek to abrogate or revisit the JCPOA with Iran, North Korea is advancing its strategic programmes, the US has just announced hawkish nuclear and ballistic missile defence posture reviews, and the weaponisation of space is more openly being broached.

We really are heading in the wrong, and rather ominous, direction.