The Russian military recently tested a short-range ballistic missile interceptor that’s meant to detonate a small-yield nuclear warhead in the air over Moscow to prevent a nuclear strike.
But there are a couple of problems with that, mainly that a nuclear blast over Moscow would already provide an electro-magnetic pulse effect that would cripple the city’s electric grid.
The system, called the A-135 AMB, also highlights differences in philosophies between the US and Russia when it comes to missile defense. The US builds missile interceptors that hit to kill, requiring a high degree of precision and guidance. The US’s THAAD missile defense system, for example, doesn’t even have a warhead.
Russia’s solution to the complicated problem of hitting an incoming warhead at many times the speed of sound is to nuke a general area of the sky.
While the US tries to station its nuclear weapons far from population centers, Russia has 68 of these 10 kiloton interceptors all around Moscow, its most populous city. Unfortunately, even in the most careful settings, nuclear mishaps occur with troubling regularity.
Additionally, as Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk writes, interceptor misfires do happen, and with a nuclear tip, that could mean catastrophe.
“It is not clear to me that, if a nuclear-armed interceptor were used over Moscow against a flock of geese, that the Russian command-and-control system would understand it was one of their own or survive the EMP effects. Then all hell might break loose,” writes Lewis.
The fact that the Kremlin is willing to have 68 nuclear devices strewn about Moscow speaks to how much they fear an attack that would threaten its regime security.
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