While the experts were wondering about the possible evolution of the world order towards a multipolar system, or even a simple tripolar system, the sudden advances of Russian military technology force the return to a bipolar organisation. Let’s take another look at what we have learned over the last three years, until the President Putin’s revelations on 1 March 2018.
- We’re back to square one – the world is once again bipolar. The United States, certain of their superiority, never imagined the rebirth of Russian military capability.
In the second quarter of 2012, Russia and its allies agreed to deploy a peace force in Syria as soon as the Geneva agreement was concluded.
But everything changed when France rebooted the war in July 2012. Although Russia had obtained recognition by the UNO of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in order to deploy Muslim soldiers, mainly from Kazakhstan, nothing was happening. Despite the calls for help from Damascus, Moscow remained silent for a long time. It was only three years later that the Russian Air Force arrived, and bombed the jihadists’ underground installations.
During the three years that followed, there were many military incidents which opposed Russia to the United States. For example, the Pentagon complained about the strange aggressivity of Russian bombers which approached the US coast. In Damascus, we sought an explanation for Moscow’s silence, and asked ourselves if Russia had forgotten its engagements. None of that was true. Russia was secretly building a new arsenal, and moved in only when it was ready.
From the beginning of its intervention, the Russian army installed a system which did not simply scramble NATO commands, but disconnected them within a range of 300 kilometres around Lattakia. Thereafter, it deployed the same system in the Black Sea and at Kaliningrad. Apart from their new aircraft, Russia used cruise missiles which were more accurate than those of the USA, fired by the navy from the Caspian Sea. Last month, on the battle field, it tested multi-purpose planes with capacities as yet unknown.
It has become clear, according to US generals on the ground, that the Russian army now has conventional forces which are more efficient than those of the USA. However, their Pentagon counterparts still have their doubts about this progression, so sure are they of remaining militarily superior for all eternity. According to them, it is simply ridiculous to compare the two armies, since theirs has a budget eight times greater than the Russians. Yet never in all of military science has the performance of two rival armies been compared by the amount of their budgets, a fact that Vladimir Putin pointed out by noting the exceptional quality of his soldiers compared with those of the United States.
In any case, while the Russians are a little better in matters of conventional warfare, they are unable to deploy on several theaters of operation simultaneously, and Washington conserves its nuclear superiority.
The entry into war, on 24 February 2018, of the Russian infantry in the Ghouta, is certainly the consequence of an agreement with the United States, who have agreed to halt their investment in Syria and therefore not to reproduce the strategies of harassment that they used against the Red Army in Afghanistan. It is also the sign that the Pentagon now fears that the Russian army could possibly give them a taste of their own medicine, elsewhere in the world.
It was precisely at this moment that President Putin chose to contest US nuclear superiority. Duirng his speech before his Parliament, on 1 March 2018, he announced that his country is in possession of a terrifying nuclear arsenal.
All these programmes have been more or less known for years, but the experts believed they would not be operational for a long time. However, most of them now are. We have to ask ourselves how the Russian were able to prepare them all without the US Intelligence Services finding out. And yet that’s exactly what they were able to do with the Su-57, which they tested in combat three weeks ago, while the CIA believed that it would not be ready until 2025.
Vladimir Putin has revealed his new arsenal. The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Sarmate (from the name of an antique Russian people for whom men and women were equals), re-uses the « orbital head » technique which had already ensured Russian superiority during the 1970’s. The USSR abandoned this programme by signing and ratifying the SALT II agreements. However, the US Senate never ratified the Treaty, which made it null and void. With this type of missile, the warhead is placed into orbit, then re-enters the atmosphere and dives onto its target, with an unlimited range of action. The Treaties prohibiting the nuclearisation of space forbid the placing of a nuclear charge into permanent orbit, but not entering space during a part of its trajectory. At our current state of knowledge, it can not be intercepted during this period. The Sarmate can suddenly appear in the atmosphere and attack anyone, anywhere.
The Dague missile (Kinzhal in Russian) must be fired from a bomber in order to reach hypersonic speed in the atmosphere – it travels at five times the speed of sound. This incredible speed of course makes it impossible to intercept. It was tested with success three months ago.
Russia also possesses a motor which draws its energy from a nuclear power plant which has been miniaturised to the point of being able to equip a nuclear warhead cruise missile. Since cruise missiles have an unpredictable trajectory, and this motor has almost infinite autonomy, they are, for the moment, invincible.
This motor, placed on an underwater drone, enables it to carry a considerable nuclear charge at speeds many times faster than a classic submarine. Apart from its radioactive effects, the charge could trigger a tsunami 500 metres high off any ocean coastline.
Finally, Russia is attempting to develop a hypersonic projectile, the Avant-Garde, which would not only combine the characteristics of the Sarmate (passage in space) and the speed of the Dague, but whose trajectory could also be adjusted during its journey.
Russia’s new nuclear weapons have been conceived in order to render inoperative the anti-missile « shield » that the Pentagon has been developing all over the world, base after base, for forty years. It is not a question of superior force, but technical conception. The principle of the « shield » offers no possible defence against them.
Worse still, President Putin also announced the creation of a laser weapon whose characteristics he did not specify. It seems that it may be capable of intercepting certain US launchers.
For the moment, the chiefs of staff of the member-states of NATO refuse to believe a word of these allegations, since these weapons sound to them like science-fiction.
Russia is the land of chess, not poker, and History has taught us that it never bluffs about its own weaponry. It has often led us to believe that weapons under development were already operational, but it has never officially announced as « combat ready » weapons which were still being tested. The more than 200 new weapons used in Syria have convinced us of the technological advance of their scientists.
The immense progress of Russia has robbed the United States of its first-strike privilege. From now on, in case of nuclear war, the two major powers could hit one another with mutual strikes. The USA possess a considerably greater number of nuclear missiles, and Russia would be able to intercept many of them. Since they both have the capacity to devastate the planet several times over, they are both theoretically equal in this type of confrontation.
On the US side, the military-industrial complex has been broken down for the last twenty years. The most important aviation project in history, the F-35, was intended to replace the F-16, the F-18 and the F-22, but Lockheed Martin is unable to conceive the software it promised. The current version of the F-35 is in reality totally incapable of honouring its technical specifications, and the US Air Force is presently considering rebooting the production of its older aircraft.
It is true that President Donald Trump and his team have decided to attract new brains to the United States in order to relaunch the production of weapons and oblige the military-industrial lobby to respond to the needs of the Pentagon instead of continuing to sell it the same old wrecks. But it will take them at least twenty years to catch up.
The technical progress of Russia not only shakes up the world order by unexpectedly restoring a bipolar system, it also forces the strategists to rethink the conditions of war.
History has taught us that few men realise quickly enough the changes in the military paradigm. In the 15th century, when the French and English armies fought the battle of Agincourt, the armoured horsemen of France were destroyed by the English archers and arbalists, although they were inferior in number. However, the generals persisted in giving privilege to hand to hand combat, instead of combat at a distance using arrows and cannon-balls. So, for another century, we saw armoured horsemen being massacred on the battle-field.
For example, no tank battle has been waged since the defeat of President Hussein, in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. And yet almost all armies were unable to interpret what had happened. The victory, in 2006, of small groups of Hezbollah Resistants against Israëli Merkava tanks, unequivocably demonstrated the vulnerability of this type of weapon. Rare are the states which have learned from this – except Australia and Syria, for example. Russia itself persists in producing these enormous rolling fortresses which are incapable of resisting their own properly-used RPG’s.
The Russian arsenal is invincible, at least if someone tries to fight them using old methods of combat. For example, intercepting hypersonic projectiles is unthinkable. But it may be possible to take control of them before they reach top speed. Military research will therefore concentrate on the control of enemy commands and communications. But in this sector too, Russia is in the lead.