Abstract: The authors offer a comparative analysis of the approaches taken in Russia (U.S.S.R.) and the United States to the deployment of their strategic antiballistic missile defense systems, and survey the major stages of ABM system development. They show the influence the U.S. military doctrine has exercised on the formation of the country’s ABM defense and its intention to take advantage of the new world order to use its ABM system for a different purpose instead – delivering a first nuclear missile strike with impunity.

In late 1944, London was shaken by explosions of German V-1 and V-2 missiles, the first ballistic weapons ever used in world history. Those long-range missiles, too great a challenge for British and American fighter aircraft to intercept and the ground antiaircraft artillery to shoot down before the missiles hit their targets, caused enormous destruction and a large loss of life, spreading panic in cities across Britain.

This first brush with missiles was an insistent call for an entirely new antiaircraft defense to be put up against missiles, now commonly known as the antimissile defense system, to effectively fight the newly emergent missile threat. This call was answered successfully by the two superpowers, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., in the post-WWII years.

The ABM defense system in the Russian Federation (U.S.S.R). Determined efforts to develop an experimental antimissile defense were launched in this country on October 28, 1953, with the publication of the government’s directive on the need to set up an antimissile defense system.1 On that date, the country’s leaders knew already about the Americans’ tests of their Redstone ballistic missile that had a range of 300 kilometers and could carry nuclear ammunition and about U.S. technological capabilities to develop ballistic missiles with a range of up to 8,000 kilometers. The threat of a nuclear missile strike had now become a real prospect.

On the assumption that Moscow was the first site to be hit with ballistic missiles, the basic parameters of an experimental system were to match up to those of Moscow’s actual ABM defense system yet to be developed and deployed.

The task of developing an antimissile defense system of this kind was assigned to Design Office 1 (today the Almaz-Antey Chief Design Office, Inc.). Grigory V. Kisunko, a researcher of an extraordinary organizational talent, was appointed Chief Designer of the antimissile defense system (System A) project. Looking ahead at what was behind the idea of a future system, he realized that accurate measurement of coordinates of both the target and the antimissile fired to destroy it with a fragmentation warhead was among the hardest challenges facing the designers. He chose the three-distance method to achieve high accuracy in coordinate measurement and the method of guiding the antimissile precisely on a head-on collision course parallel to the approach course of the target.

G. Kisunko settled on three high-precision radar sets to be placed at the points of a triangle inscribed into the outer circle of the Berkut S-25 antimissile defense (AMD) system built around Moscow having an 85 kilometer radius. For his idea to build an antimissile defense system (System A) to be put into practice, a triangle of a size close to the chief designer’s triangle was to be laid out on the newly built AMD proving ground near Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan (then still a republic of the U.S.S.R.).

System A consisted of:

  • a chief command and computation post and a central computing station;
  • three radar sets guiding an antimissile to the target with high precision, each radar set comprising a radiolocation channel to detect and track ballistic targets and a radiolocation channel to capture and track antimissiles;
  • an antimissile sighting (guiding) radar set combined with a radar set transmitting control signals to the antimissile onboard equipment and detonating its warhead;
  • a launch site with antimissile launchers; and
  • a technical site to ready the antimissiles.

All these AMD system components put up in the Betpak Dala desert hundreds of kilometers from one another were linked by a radio relay (repeater) system to transmit data. The repeater system was the only way for an electronic calculating machine (the name for computer back then) as part of the command and computation post to control the components of the experimental AMD complex.

The short time available to intercept ballistic missiles, with no place for humans to have a part, target interception was fully automated, practically from end to end, through the M-40 digital computer, the earliest experience in electronic computation in Russia. Still, human operators captured the incoming missile and the antimissile they tracked by manipulating computer controls. The M-40 computer was among the earliest projects completed at the Fine Mechanics and Computation Equipment Institute, U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. The machine performed 40,000 one-digit operations per second and had a random-access memory of 4,096 four-digit words and was capable of representing fixed-point numbers. At the time, the M-40 was among the fastest computers in the world. As improvements continued on System A, the M-40 was eventually upgraded to a more advanced M-50.

The three high-precision radar sets were placed in the angles of a triangle having sides 150 kilometers long on Sites 1, 2, and 3 of the Balkhash proving ground, respectively, 140, 240, and 180 kilometers away from present-day Priozyorsk. Distances were measured with a mean square deviation of five meters or even less.

On March 4, 1961, the fragmentation warhead of an antimissile missile launched from the experimental AMD system intercepted, the first time in the world, and destroyed the warhead of an R-12 ballistic missile flying at over three kilometers per second. It was truly a unique achievement.

In March through June 1961, a series of AM missiles launched successfully from the same location intercepted ballistic targets (Fig. 1).

Detection, tracking, and destruction of ballistic missiles during the System A tests were the starting points for System A-35, a new combat air defense system, that was eventually developed.

Fig. 1. Experimental launch of a V-1000 AM (System A missile)

Unlike its experimental predecessor, the combat ABM system was to intercept groups of targets at altitudes above the atmosphere at a long range, and the AM missile, the principal weapon of the combat system, was to carry a special-purpose warhead.

As work went on to develop an ABM system protecting individual targets, a project to design an area ABM system was launched in the country, and yet was left off for natural and man-made reasons.

In summer 1961, construction of a complex named Aldan started on the Balkhash proving site to test a future A-35 combat ABM defense system, soon to be followed, in October 1962, by groundbreaking at the testing ranges for construction to begin on combat ABM defense components in Moscow Region.

On December 8, 1970, the government gave the go-ahead for official testing to begin on the A-35 ABM defense system, and on September 1, 1971, the main first-stage testing range of the system was put on an experimental combat alert.

In 1973, modernization of the hardware-software complex of the A-35 system was initiated to upgrade it to an A-35M ABM defense system. At about the same time, a team under Anatoly G. Basistov, a prominent Soviet scholar in radio engineering and electronics, sketched out a new project for a future A-135 ABM defense system.

In August 1977, official tests began on the A-35M ABM defense system, and in December of that year it was brought into service and put on combat alert on May 15, 1978.

In 1979, work began on a site in Moscow Region to build infrastructure facilities for a new, A-135, ABM defense system (Fig. 2) that was thoroughly tested upon completion and put on combat alert on December 1, 1995, in place of the A-35 system.

We take pride in many staff researchers of the 45th Institute who made, each and every one of them, a significant contribution to the development, testing, and operation of the ABM defense systems we discussed in the preceding paragraphs. And we have the honor to give a long, yet far from complete, list of their names: Y.M. Andreyev, V.A. Aleksandrov, G.S. Batyr, V.M. Bakharev, G.I. But-ko, A.D. Vetoshnikov, A.V. Gavrilenko, Ye.M. Galtsov, G.I. Gozyumov, Yu.G. Yerokhin, I.G. Zheleznov, V.N. Zavaliy, Yu.A. Zyuzin, V.N. Ivanov, K.V. Iva-nov, A.S. Ivanyushchenko, V.A. Ivnitskiy, V.A. Kapyrin, N.N. Kozlov, V.B. Kon-stantinov, L.Yu. Korogodina, R.G. Korolyov, V.A. Lavrushin, A.I. Leonov, V.P. Likhanov, A.A. Molodozhnikov, V.I. Mostovoy, F.V. Nagulinko, V.A. Novikov, I.I. Ozherelyeva, V.P. Omelchuk, I.M. Penchukov, V.A. Pimenov, V.A. Popov, Yu.P. Poryvkin, A.A. Pokh, S.K. Prokhorenko, N.V. Radchuk, V.N. Repin, A.A. Russkikh, V.P. Salov, A.S. Samal, O.P. Sidorov, V.G. Sorokin N.G. Sukhomlinova, A.A. Tarakanovskiy, A.V. Timoshenko, Yu.N. Tretyakov, A.N. Uchitkin, M.I. Faustov, Ye.N. Filin, S.V Frolov, G.S. Khalidova, A.N. Tsidilin, T.B. Tsikhon, I.N. Shabelnikov, N.D. Shamgunov, A.A. Shelepin, P.I. Shestakov, and V.M. Yablonsky.

Fig. 2. A-135 ABM defense system.

The country’s leaders put a high value of the Institute’s projects. In 1975, the State Prize was awarded to several researchers at the Institute for development and activation of an experimental theoretical method for testing complex weapon systems. The State Prize went to V.M. Bakharev, G.I. Butko, V.I. Gipik, G.V. Ko-nonenko, A.I. Leonov, A.A. Molodozhnikov, I.M. Penchukov, A.S. Sharak-shaneh, and Yu.S. Shuvalov.

Today, researchers at the Scientific Research Testing Center (successor of the 45th Institute) of the Aerospace Defense Forces’ Central Scientific Research Institute, the Defense Ministry’s leading ABM defense organization, are a close-knit team of coworkers possessing high skills and backgrounds in science and testing practices in high standing with the Defense Ministry brass and defense industry executives.

The Center’s researchers have come up with ideas to make improvements in the A-135 ABM defense system, in particular, its combat performance and ease of maintenance, expansion of protection coverage, and interception of targets as they are now and will be in the future. They also have developed a methodological software package to put the A-135 through tests and assess the combat and maintenance characteristics of its upgrades. They have succeeded in coordinating the operation of the national strike, warning, and defensive systems (weapons) to exercise strategic deterrence and repel missile attacks from space.

The researchers’ findings have been incorporated into a comprehensive engineering project to develop an ABM defense system in Russia and in the conceptual document entitled “The Underlying Principles of the ABM Defense Policy in the Russian Federation.”

ABM Defense System in the United States. The U.S. ABM defense systems have gone through several development stages.

■ At the first stage, 1956 through 1972, the focus was on an ABM defense system capable of intercepting ballistic targets, development of its architecture, and evolution of a concept of an ABM defense system deployment.

The U.S. experimental ABM defense systems – Nike Zeus, Nike-X, and Sentinel – used antimissiles carrying nuclear payloads to destroy sophisticated ballistic targets indiscriminately beyond the atmosphere. As the ABM project emerged out of its experimental phase, a combat ABM defense system was scheduled for deployment to cover large administrative and industrial centers in 25 cities and Minuteman ICBM bases. That ABM defense system was not fated to be deployed, though.

■ The second stage, 1972 to 1983, was highlighted by the signing and implementation of a treaty between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. on limitations of their antiballistic missile defense systems.

The nuclear missile arms race between the two superpowers led them to a point where both gave thought to the effect their ABM defense systems had on strategic stability in the world. Both recognized that improvements in their ABM defense systems had become a destabilizing factor stimulating improvements in the strategic offensive weapons. In an effort to halt the arms race, the U.S.S.R. and U.S. governments arranged to have talks on restraints to be put on their ABM defense systems. It was a kind of concession, though on the part of the U.S.S.R. to sit down at the negotiating table at a time when its military had just carried out successfully a series of ABM programs and were about to begin field tests.

The treaty on the limitations of their Antiballistic Missile Systems (or the ABM Treaty) the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. signed on May 27, 1972 became a key element of international law that helped to keep the peace and strategic stability in the world for 30 years.

The ABM Treaty committed both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. to:

  • limit their antiballistic missile defense systems in the number of interceptors (not more than 100 antimissiles) and the number of facilities defended (not more than one facility within the national territory);
  • refrain from deploying an antiballistic missile defense system on the national scale;
  • refrain from deploying an antiballistic missile defense system in an individual area;
  • refrain from developing seaborne, airborne, spaceborne, and mobile ground-based ABM defense systems; and
  • refrain from enabling other radar sets to have a part in repelling strategic ballistic missiles.

The U.S. focused its efforts on developing an ABM defense system to protect its strategic nuclear ICBM Air Force Base at Grand Forks.

The Soviet Union chose Moscow and the Moscow industrial center, the seat of the high government and military control authorities and its significant human and industrial potential to defend against ballistic missiles.

The ABM Treaty helped slow down the escalating arms race between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. The Treaty on the Limitation of Antiballistic Missile Systems was truly the cornerstone of strategic stability in the world for a considerable length of time.

The change of focus in the U.S. to preemptive strikes in a nuclear missile war and development of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) led to a review of the role of the Safeguard ABM system, and its eventual closure in 1976.

■ The third stage in the development of the U.S. ABM systems in 1983 to 1991 began with U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s announcement of a program, formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), to develop a large-scale, multiecheloned antiballistic missile defense to protect the country against a large nuclear missile strike.

The SDI program scheduled development of ground-based, airborne, and spaceborne ABM weapons using different physical principles and capable of destroying incoming missiles at practically any point of their flight trajectories.

The SDI program cost over $30 billion to launch and carry on. As it went underway, the U.S. leaders’ vision of its tasks, final shape, and time frame changed significantly, and it was eventually abandoned. Much of the blame for the SDI’s failure was also put on its enormous budget and severe technological handicaps to be overcome to develop weapons based on new physical principles, and not least on the changes in the political situation across the world following the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

In 1991, the mothballed SDI was replaced with a global domination strategy, and work went full speed ahead to develop an ABM system against limited ballistic missile strikes.

The new ABM concept was approved by the U.S. legislature in the ABM Act in 1991 that signaled the beginning of the current stage in the development of the U.S. ABM system.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1995 turned the ABM defense policy initially to the development and deployment of an efficient ABM system on a theater of operations to protect the U.S. forward and expeditionary forces and reinforce the ABM forces of U.S. allies and partners (Article 233, Para. 1, of the Act).

On March 17, 1999, the U.S. Senate voted by an overwhelming majority for a National Missile Defense bill. Public Law 106-38 that was passed on it contained a single relevant paragraph of a single relevant sentence – “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)

The NMD Act of 1999 was passed in the face of Russia’s continuing attempts to invigorate confidence building measures in ABM defense. In particular, development of nonstrategic ABM systems (the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system in the U.S. and the S-300V system in Russia) led to an agreement on nonstrategic ABM defense being drafted and signed by Russia and the U.S. The two countries signed an agreement on confidence-building measures in defense against ballistic missiles that were not strategic ballistic missiles in New York in 1997. The signatories undertook under this confidence-building agreement to refrain from deploying their systems in quantities and in areas posing a real threat to each other’s strategic nuclear forces.

An attempt was also made to draw a dividing line between strategic and non-strategic ABM systems (theater ABM systems) according to the speed of ballistic missiles intercepted and intercepting missiles, and also according to the ranges and speeds of target missiles during flight tests. The dividing line agreement, though, did not enter into force, nor success attended attempts to reach agreement on relevant amendments to the ABM Treaty in 1998 to 2000.

Many other initiatives were undertaken in antimissile defense during that period. For example, establishment of a joint Russian-American center to exchange data obtained from the Russian and American missile attack warning systems was considered in significant details and theater command and staff ABM defense exercises were held between Russia and the U.S. and between Russia and NATO.

The checks and balances system Russia and the U.S. built into their relationships was short-lived. Seizing upon the lame pretext of growing missile threats coming from North Korea and Iran, and taking advantage of Russia’s waning economic and military power, the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty in 2001.

Now, the United States had its hands free to start building a worldwide ABM system. The U.S. Army’s THAAD system, the U.S. Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system, and the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD since 2002), first called the National Missile Defense (NMD), have been developed and become operational. In our days, these systems are gradually upgraded and grow in numbers.

Next in the line were regional ABM systems in Japan, Europe, and Israel. On closer examination of the combat capabilities of the joint U.S. regional ABM systems in Europe, Japan, and Israel it turns out that they can, if arranged into specific configurations, impact the efficiency of Russia’s nuclear retaliation.

The U.S. gives much attention to plans to develop and optimize the configuration of the European ABM system. The reason is not hard to find – it is the stage-by-stage adaptive plan to deploy components of the U.S. ABM system in Europe:

  • The combat power of the U.S. ABM strike weapons deployed in Europe has no appreciable effect on the potential of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces today; this is not always going to be so – at most, until Standard Missile 3, Modification 2A/B, with long-range interception capabilities becomes operational (approximately between 2015 and 2018) with the U.S. Navy.
  • The configuration of the U.S. ABM system radar sets (seaborne and ground-based) deployed in Europe already enhance the information support capabilities for Russian ICBMs to be intercepted by the strategic ABM system in the continental United States.

The idea behind the latest changes in the U.S. plans to deploy a European segment of its ABM system is ceasing deployment of stationary systems in favor of mobile information and fire capabilities that have proved to be reliable and efficient during flight tests and experimental operation as best suited for deployment in the European region.

The weapons fitting these requirements are:

  • the shipborne and shore-based Standard Missile 3 antimissile (existing and projected modifications) of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system (Fig. 3);
  • the mobile ground-based terminal high-altitude area defense (THAAD) antimissile system; and
  • the forward mobile ground-based AN/TPY-2 radar set.

There is as yet no absolute certainty about the deployment locations of these ABM capabilities in the European theater. The U.S. officials’ statements and documents contain hints at several probable locations:

  • shipborne ABM defense systems – the Baltic, Mediterranean, and Black seas;
  • Standard Missile 3 ground-based ABM systems – Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Ukraine; and
  • forward ground-based radar sets – South Caucasus and Caspian shores.

If these locations are more than rumors, the European ABM system will be able to intercept ballistic missiles launched from Iranian territory and ICBMs taking off from Russia’s European part on course against targets on the U.S. East Coast. This is one of several reasons why the U.S. has taken so much interest in East European countries and is going all out to integrate Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine into the European Union and NATO.

The conclusion to be drawn from a closer examination of the structure and combat power of the joint U.S. and Japanese antimissile defense built around the seaborne forces of the U.S. Pacific Command and the Japanese Navy will, in the longer run, repel missile strikes launched from North Korean territory and lower the efficiency of China’s retaliatory missile strikes and, under certain circumstances, the Russian Navy’s strategic nuclear missiles launched in retaliation from the Pacific.

Fig. 3. U.S. Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

Fig. 4. U.S. Army’s THAAD Ballistic Missile Defense System.

The headway the U.S. has made to date to develop ABM weapons and systems is evidence that the United States is deploying a global ABM system that will be capable, within the next decade, of protecting U.S. national territory and military bases overseas against single missiles launched by Third World countries and, in the longer term, thwart the threats of limited (retaliatory) missile strikes by technologically developed countries, including Russia and China.

The U.S. global ABM defense system now in development is capable of delivering a preemptive nuclear missile strike against Russia and prevent it from firing its nuclear missiles back in retaliation.

The Russian delegation attending the intentional conference on an antimissile defense as a factor contributing to the evolution of a new and secure environment in Moscow in 2012 spoke about this country’s latest measures to counteract the U.S. ABM system in development, up to a preemptive strike against U.S. ABM facilities in Europe in the event of the military and political situation in our part of the world taking a turn for the worse.

Since the U.S. walked out of the ABM Treaty in 2001, the Russian Federation has been following its basic terms in good faith. Moreover, Russia has initiated talks between the two countries on U.S. ABM system limitations several times over the last few years, still with nothing to show for its efforts.


1. G.V. Kisunko, Sekretnaya zona: ispoved’ general’nogo konstruktora [The Restricted Access Zone: Confessions of the General Designer], Sovremennik Publishers, Moscow, 1996.

Translated by Gennady Khmelev