Russia is the only country apart from the United States with an operationally deployed ballistic missile defense system around Moscow. The system A-135 is a two-tier terminal phase ballistic missile defense system protecting the capital as well as the ballistic missile bases near Moscow. Originally, interceptors had nuclear-tipped warheads and were upgraded to non-nuclear for security purposes only in 1990’s. Incoming warheads are destroyed in altitude between 10-20 miles. Some experts say the system is capable to shoot down a satellite. Some experts do not believe the official position of the Russian government and say that Russians still have nuclear-tipped warheads.
The U.S. “hit-to-kill” technology is more developed; non-nuclear interceptors can intercept incoming warheads and destroy them only with the power of the impact. Soviet/Russian interceptors have relied on a nuclear explosion that was supposed to create enough heat to destroy incoming enemy warheads.
The system was initially deployed against the U.S. threat, as well as a threat from ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons of China, France and the United Kingdom during the Cold War. Recently the aim of the system is to protect the capital against the “rogue” missile/nuclear weapon threat.
Currently the system consists of 32 long-range (Gorgon) and 68 short-range (Gazelle) interceptors deployed around Moscow, command and control center and early warning radars, one of which is in Azerbaijan. Russians offered this radar as a replacement for the U.S. proposed installation in Eastern Europe. However, the need for a trilateral agreement raises many legal and security issues. Due to the proximity to the target the radar would not be useful to cue the U.S. interceptors to destroy the incoming missile in their midcourse phase of the flight.
By the 1980s the Soviet Union had deployed approximately 10,000 dual-purpose surface-to-air missiles that in effect came to serve as a national missile defense in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
In July 2007, Russia deployed the S-400 (North Atlantic Treaty Organization designation SA-20 Triumf) surface-to-air air-defense and theater anti-missile system. The S-400 is capable of destroying aircraft, cruise missiles, and short-and medium-range ballistic missiles at a distance of up to 250 miles. The new ballistic missile interceptor is reported to have twice the range of the Patriot PAC-3 and over twice the range of the S-300 missile it replaces. Russia has been marketing the S-300 and S-400 to China and in the Middle East, especially Iran, and is also interested in exporting these systems to Turkey. It is interesting that these activities are not considered as upsetting the strategic balance.
Russia is currently working on a Naval Missile Defense System S-500 which is expected to exceed the capabilities of the Aegis BMD, but a comparison with the latter is impossible until the completion of the S-500. This system is being developed in a project leaded by Almaz-Antey, which is the same company that manufactures the S-400 defense system.
Russia has over 3000 strategic warheads (strategic here means capable of reaching the U.S. soil) and thousands tactical nuclear weapons (capable of reaching our European allies). U.S. limited defensive ballistic missile defense against the threat of Iran does not have the potential to destabilize strategic balance.