Earlier this month, the Russian Ground Troops took delivery of their ninth brigade set of Iskander-M missiles (NATO designation SS-26 / Stone). The new brigade will deploy east of Yekaterinburg at Yelanskiy in Russia’s Central MD.
Each brigade set has 51 vehicles — 12 TELs, 12 reload vehicles, 11 command vehicles, 14 personnel support vehicles, one data preparation vehicle, and one service and repair vehicle. So a brigade can load out 48 Iskander-M missiles. Additional reloads may come out of the brigade’s missile storage facility.
A brigade has three battalions, each with two batteries of two launchers.
The first Iskander-M missiles deployed with the 630th Independent Missile Battalion between 2005 and 2007. They were operationally tested with this unit which falls under the 60th Combat Employment Training Center for Missile Troops and Artillery of the Ground Troops at Kapustin Yar.
After some piecemeal deployments, Moscow got serious about Iskander-M production, investing in production capability at Votkinsk and its suppliers, and signing a contract to equip ten brigades before the end of 2017. The MOD’s 2013 “Action Plan” through 2020 indicated that Iskander-M would be the only new weapon system to replace its predecessor completely during that time frame.
The MOD may plan to go above ten brigades of Iskander-M given that the Ground Troops’ structure is expanding at the army level. The existing 152nd Missile Brigade at Chernyakhovsk in Kaliningrad (part of Baltic Fleet forces) and the 448th Missile Brigade at Kursk (20th CAA) also remain to be upgraded to Iskander-M.
Even without leaving garrison, Iskander-M missiles in Western Russia can reach southern Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, northern Belarus, southeastern Ukraine, Crimea, northeastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan with their 500-km range. Iskander-M in Kaliningrad allows coverage of targets in southern Sweden, Poland, northwestern Ukraine, and most of Belarus. Add a brigade at Kursk and Russian missiles cover most of Ukraine including Kyiv.
Iskander-M missiles in Russia’s Far East can reach targets in China’s new Northern Theater Command north of Beijing.
But the real reach of Iskander-M depends on the missile loaded on its launcher…is it the 9M723 ballistic missile with reported 500-km range or is it the 9M728 cruise missile also with reported (but more difficult to believe) 500-km range. The latter has come to be known as Iskander-K.
This missile is also known as the R-500 and it may be part of the Kalibr family. If true, it may have 2,000-km or greater range — breaking the INF Treaty’s prohibition on ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500- and 5,500-km.
Iskander-K is likely already present in the first four or five brigades armed with Iskander-M.
It’s a game-changer. Fired from near Luga, this missile covers all of Western Europe, perhaps falling shy of Paris. In the Far East, one from Birobidzhan covers all of northern China and easily reaches Beijing.