Russia upgrades missiles to evade U.S. arms

/ Source: The Associated Press

Russia's military is planning to upgrade its missiles to allow them to evade American weapons in space and penetrate any prospective missile shield, a Russian general said Monday.

In comments to the Interfax news agency, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces chief, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, as saying that Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles will be modernized to protect them from space-based components of the U.S. missile defense system.

The upgrade will make the missiles' warheads capable of flying "outside the range" of the space-based system, Solovtsov was quoted as saying.

He didn't elaborate, but Russian officials have previously boasted about prospective new warheads capable of making sharp maneuvers to dodge missile defense systems.

Solovtsov also reportedly said the military will commission new RS-24 missiles equipped with state-of-the-art systems to help penetrate a missile shield. He did not specify that Moscow intended to penetrate a U.S. missile shield, but the Kremlin has fiercely opposed the U.S. plan to deploy a battery of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic.

Russia has criticized U.S. plans for space-based weapons, saying they could trigger a new arms race. Washington has resisted efforts by Russia and China to negotiate a global ban on weapons in space.

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Reflecting Russia's suspicions about U.S. intentions, Solovtsov alleged Monday that the U.S. is considering the scenario of a first nuclear strike that would destroy most Russian missiles. A few surviving Russian weapons launched in retaliation could then be destroyed by the U.S. missile defense system.

Solovtsov said the concept was not feasible.

"The Americans will never be able to implement this scenario, because Russian strategic nuclear forces, including the Strategic Missile Forces, will be capable of delivering a strike of retribution under any course of developments," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the prospective missile defense system isn't intended to be used against Russia. But Russian leaders have dismissed U.S. claims that the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic are intended to counter a missile threat from Iran, saying they will threaten Russia's nuclear forces.

The day after Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential election, President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia will respond to the U.S. plans by deploying short-range missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region near Poland.

Medvedev and his predecessor and mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then took a step back, saying that Russia will only make the move if the U.S. deploys the missile defense in Europe. They expressed hope that the new U.S. administration will scrap the plan.

Although windfall oil revenues allowed the Kremlin to boost military budgets, Russian arms makers have had trouble producing new weapons because of the loss of key technologies and the exodus of qualified workers. The prospective Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile for nuclear submarines, for example, has failed repeatedly over the years.

However, officials said a Bulava test last week was a success, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Monday the test program was to be completed next year. He said the missile has already been ordered into serial production.