WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- A surprising number of countries, including some with warm ties to the United States, are interested in buying Russia's short-range but formidable Iskander-E ballistic missile.
A senior executive of Rosoboronexport, the coordinating Russian arms exporting agency, stated Wednesday that Kuwait, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates -- all traditional U.S. allies -- were interested in buying the Iskander, RIA Novosti reported Thursday.
"Syria, the UAE, Malaysia, India and some other countries have shown an interest in the missile system," said Rosoboronexport official Nikolai Dimidyuk. Russia also will seek to export the Iskander-E to Algeria, Kuwait, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea, he added.
The United States currently manufactures and exports nothing like the Iskander-E -- NATO designation SS-26 Stone. RIA Novosti described the weapons system as "a tactical surface-to-surface missile complex designed to deliver high-precision strikes at a variety of ground targets at a range of up to 280 kilometers (170 miles)." The Iskander-E carries only a single warhead with a payload of up to 880 pounds, staying within the parameters determined by the Missile Technology Control Regime.
The Iskander-E is relatively small and light, with a launch weight of 3,800 kilograms (8,360 pounds), RIA Novosti said. That means it can be moved on a transporter erector launcher -- TEL -- vehicle that can hold two of them, greatly increasing survivability from pre-emptive air attack and doubling the launch system's firepower.
The report also noted that the Iskander-E is equipped with "stealth" technology and it has the capacity for variable flight trajectory, making it much more difficult for ballistic missile defense to shoot it down.
Because the missiles are solid-fueled, they can be launched extremely quickly, again reducing to virtually zero the chances of knocking them out before launch with a pre-emptive airstrike. RIA Novosti said the second missile on a TEL could be fired within a minute of the first one being launched.
The missiles are also exceptionally accurate with a circular-error probability -- CEP -- of only 30 meters (around 100 feet).
RIA Novosti said a single Iskander battery includes a number of TELs, loaders and a command vehicle. "Target acquisition is supported by a mobile data-processing center," it said.
Dimidyuk said the Russian armed forces were already creating a combat brigade of Iskander-M SRBM -- short-range ballistic missile -- systems that would have "longer ranges and heavier payloads than the export -- Iskander-E -- version."
"The system has been adopted in service with Russia's armed forces, and, as far as I know, a brigade (of Iskander systems) is being formed," Dimidyuk said.
Russia already has threatened to deploy the Iskander in its Kaliningrad region on the Baltic Sea.
RIA Novosti cited three-star Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, a former commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, as telling the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta in July that the Kremlin could rapidly move its Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad or the former Soviet republic of Belarus, a loyal Russian ally, to put them within range of hitting the new U.S. BMD base being built in Poland.
The Iskander is the ideal weapon to use in any pre-emptive strike to knock out the kind of high-tech ballistic missile defense system, such as the U.S. Army's Patriot and the Israeli Arrow, that is designed to be effective against intermediate-range ballistic missiles -- IRBMs -- or shorter-range weapons. That makes them a deadly threat to the new BMD base to hold 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors -- GBIs -- that the United States is building in Poland to defend Western Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States from the threat of any future Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile --ICBM -- that could carry nuclear warheads.
The Iskanders therefore would pose a formidable threat to the U.S. GBIs in Poland, and if Russia sells them to Syria, they could knock out Israel's most advanced early warning radar facilities in a pre-emptive strike, leaving the country defenseless against nuclear-capable Iranian IRBMs and cruise missiles.
If Russia sold Syria enough Iskander-Es, they also would pose a threat, combined with Hezbollah's more than 10,000 missiles, mainly on multiple-launch rocket systems -- MLRS -- of disrupting mobilization procedures of the Israeli army in any future war with Syria on the Golan Heights.
The beauty of the Iskander concept is that it employs a venerable, highly reliable, mature technology, cost-effectively allowing it to knock out the vastly more expensive BMD systems that it targets.
In this respect, it parallels the effectiveness of the U.S. Army Air Force's North American P-51 Mustang piston engine combat fighters in World War II that shot down hundreds of technically vastly superior, but far less numerous and far less cost-effective German Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters.
The Iskander therefore serves notice that even in the cutting-edge, super-high-tech world of ballistic missile defense, there is an important role for older, simpler, far cheaper technologies to play "spoiler" roles that can destroy or disrupt the much more ambitious -- and expensive -- defense systems that nations put their trust in.