Russia's Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile outperforms its counterparts and is going to be in service another 25 years at the least. Interviewed by a TASS news agency correspondent, Valery M. Kashin, general designer of RPC KBM JSC, told about plans for upgrading the Iskander-M SRBM system, development of a new Arena-M active tank protection system, and trials of Mi-28NM-borne upgraded Ataka missiles, the products developed by KBM.
Question: Are there plans for a further upgrading of the Iskander-M missile system?
Answer: We have prepared our suggestions for a further upgrading of this missile system, now they are being studied by the Ministry of defence. By the early 2020 it will be 10 years since the date the first missile brigade is equipped with Iskander-M SRBM systems, and there will be high time for hardware maintenance, too. So, the upgrading and maintenance of Iskander systems must concur in order not to impair their operational availability.
Speaking about service life of the existing Iskander-M systems, we think that they will serve within the time framework commensurate with that of its predecessors, that is about 25 to 30 years (Tochka SRBM system was fielded more than 40 years, Tochka-U SRBM - 30 years). It should be noted that Iskander-M SRBM deliveries include development of the complete infrastructure system for deployment of a brigade at its home station, construction of storages and organization of technical positions. All that entails considerable expenditures, so it would be misallocation of state resources to develop a new weapons system every five to ten years.
On the other hand, attacking threats are evolving or new ones emerging, new political circumstances may appear that threaten the state. Certainly, this must be responded by upgrading the system.
Q: By what year all brigades will have been armed with Iskander-M systems?
A: The contract covers the time period till 2017, and we are scheduled to deliver two more system sets that year. Some more sets can probably be contracted, but it is up to the General staff of our armed forces to decide. We carry on production of missiles to provide for field stocks plus there must be made a reserve for the centre.
Q: Do you know the opinion of the military personnel about Iskander-M?
A: MoD as represented by both the user (missile forces and artillery), and the general staff give full marks for the system. In a nutshell, according to the military the Iskander-M system complies to the highest possible degree with specified requirements among all high-precision weapon systems of this category be they ground-, air- or sea-based.
Q: Does the contract stipulate supply of simulators?
A: At the time of Iskander-M development, funding was scarce, and the tactical and technical specification didn't included simulators but only the minimum set of training aids: missile dummies for drills at loading/unloading, instructional sheets etc. It was not until the first brigade was to receive the materiel that the Russian MoD broached the issue of trainers/simulators. This initiative was seconded by the user, and then the defence minister ordered to start the work. Today we have a simulator for the TEL crew. The simulator successfully completed its state trials, the first set is with the Mikhaylovskaya academy, MoD is going to place an order for the simulator.
However, we look at it in a broader sense: a family of simulators should be developed to train all the brigade personnel and upkeep acquired skills for constant combat readiness. We are working on such a package. It will embrace all specialists operating/maintaining the missile brigade hardware. The work is expected to have been completed by 2018.
Q: Are there foreign competitors for Iskander-M?
A: If you take the USA, for example, so they are intending to destruct targets as far as up to 500 km by other types of weapon, most likely by airborne systems. They field the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) developed for use at the ground battlefield whose performances, however, are inferior to those of Iskander-M: it has a shorter range, the combat payload delivered to 300 km is also considerably lighter. Moreover, that weapon system was developed without proper consideration of an effective air defence system that the missile must penetrate.
Among other states, the most attention to the weapon system at issue is paid by China. Presently, it advances, without doubt, very fast, particularly because it is not restricted by INF stipulations. To boot, the technology level in that country rose very high: they use advanced electronic technologies and chemical products, they have made a major breakthrough in basic technologies required for missile development and manufacture. However, those Chinese SRBM systems we know about lay a considerable way behind the Iskander-M system in terms of accuracy and air defence penetration capability.
Q: What about Ukrainian developments in this field?
A: Presently, a great deal of information has appeared suggesting that the Ukraine suddenly started stirring up to developmental activities in this domain. According to mass media, they are willing to develop a similar system for money provided from abroad. If you look at the system it is very close to Iskander. However, I doubt it that all the issues related to development of such a weapon system can be solved by the Ukrainian industry in a short space of time. And you should bear in mind, that many production facilities required for that program are located in the Donbass territory. Do not forget about uninterruptedly and completely providing financial support of work.
The Ukrainian military and industrial sector has problems with specialists because white and blue collars who have worked back in 1991 — I'm speaking about missiliers — grew older and withdrew from direct involvement in activities.
Q: Where do you stand in the development of active protection systems for armoured materiel?
A: APS's fate isn't completely in our hands. You can imagine such a system as a tortoise shell which is of no use without tortoise itself except may be for combs. So, APS configuration depends on what “tortoise” it is made for, accordingly, priority is given to the developer of the tank.
Initially, when the USSR government had made decision on APS development, KBM was tasked to create the Arena system for the Т-80 tank, whereas the Tula Central R&D bureau for small arms and sporting guns the Drozd system − which now became Afganit (protecting Armata Т-14 tank; TASS remark) − for the Т-55 tank. In 1990-ies the government ceased to finance the defence-industrial sector and KBM committed its own money to completion of Arena development. The state trials were passed with success. But, by that time the Ministry of defence had staked on other carriers: Т-90, Т-72 and Armata. We actually finished out of any tank to protect.
Some time ago KBM made agreement with Uralvagonzavod to equip Т-72 and Т-90 tanks with our APS. But today, the tank designers request a fully new configuration of the system. It appears that the principles of design are the same but eventually it is a completely new development. Moreover, the evolving design of Т-72 and Т-90 tanks has demanded some additional refinement of APS configuration, so the system must have been re-developed anew.
Col Gen O.L. Salyukov, Army C-in-C, has visited KBM twice lately. We have agreed to boost up APS activities. Nowadays, APSs for both Т-72 and Т-90 tanks undergo preliminary trials.
Q: Is that system a successor to Arena?
A: Yes, it is, but its name is Arena-M. We have retained the system name because it is designed with Arena idea in mind but I'd like to say it again: This is a new design completely customized to another tank. It is very important that the customer's requirements freeze at long last.
It was demonstrated by recent combat actions that tanks need an APS. Middle-East conflicts substantiated the fact that, first, tanks are sine qua non on the battlefield and, second, its full protection can be provided no longer by legacy protection means including ERA - tanks are hit, they burn.
By the way, the first users of a full-scale production APS for tank protection were the Israelis. Having get clue from mass media about KBM and its Arena APS and having realized that the active protection system isn't a figment of the imagination, Israel started out on this road and today they field tanks outfitted with APS. The USA are now also engaged in APS development.
Q: The Americans claim that TOW, their ultimate antitank missile system, defeats any main battle tank. Is Arena capable of protecting our tanks from that missile?
A: Based on the information about this missile available with us, there is no doubt that the Arena-M APS will protect the tank against TOW missiles.
Q: At present, Russia has many launch platforms, both wheeled and tracked. Do you intend to arm Kurganets or Armata with Ataka or Khrizantema ATGW?
A: I beg to differ in the opinion that there are lots of launch platforms. Yes, advertisement brochures feature a great deal of them, but how many of them are fielded?
Ataka 9M120-1 launchers are installed on BMPT tank support vehicles based on the Т-90 and Т-72 tank chassis. The systems have successfully completed state trials, however, the BMPT is not accepted for service yet, but hopefully will be.
Prompted by the MoD tactical and technical requirement, KBM is developing a Gibka-S system based on the Tigr tactical vehicle. It is intended to carry a MANPADS squad/section capable of launching missiles both when stationary and on the move. The in-house developmental work money is shared with our partners. The launch vehicle was manufactured, is being prepared for preliminary trials and receiving finishing touches. Upon completion of preliminary trials we expect the vehicle to be subjected to state trials and eventually commissioned.
There also feasibility studies underway at KBM related with another light short-range missile system (of Strela-10 type), this is an R&D effort titled Ptitselov (‘Bird-catcher’). If this task is going to move a step further, we'll seek to participate in that program.
Q: When is the Mi-28MN helicopter going to be armed with a modernized Ataka missile?
A: We have laid down a program for upgrading heliborne guided weapon systems which concerns not only Ataka missiles. Work is in full swing, and we have obtained successful test results. The new missiles will substantially improve performance of Mi-28N helicopters - their weapon system will outperform that equipping foreign rotary-wing aircraft.
It should be highlighted that Russia's MoD had not ordered special-purpose guided weapon systems for helicopters as long ago as 1990-ies. It means that everything done in this field was either initiated by developers of missiles on their own or adapted from missiles intended for other services. In particular, today Russian helicopters use Igla-S missile developed for Army air defence as an air-to-air armament. Some modifications had to be done. So, you can say that heliborne weapon systems had been stagnating because no money was invested, no orders were placed, all were happy with whatever was available.
Q: Will the Verba antiaircraft missile be arming helicopters as it now does Igla-S?
A: Yes, it will, too.
Q: Does the problem of seeker development persist in Russia?
A: The problem does exist. Particularly bad is the situation with infrared seekers including those used against aerial targets. It was only the Verba MANPADS missile seeker that had been developed for the last 20 years that was of a brand new type. There were many competing design bureaus in the USSR which contributed to development and manufacture of high-quality products, today in Russia we are short of seeker design companies. There is actually only one — LOMO JSC.
At the same time the development of seekers is very important as the general evolution trend for armament is pointing towards implementation of the ‘fire-forget-destroy’ principle. Before, the overwhelming majority of guided weapon system were based on the command principle when the ground unit generated control and guidance commands so the missile was just a dull executor, and now the data processing brains are on the missile itself.
Q: Any other example besides Verba?
A: Some missiles incorporate rather well performing seekers.
Q: Is the Verba missile going to replace the Igla-S missile in service with our armed forces as it is the case of Iskander replacing Tochka or will there be a mixed ratio of them?
A: Since the Verba missile system is more advanced and more capable, so Russia's MoD orders for it prevail. But it is more expensive so there is still demand for the Igla-S system, particularly by foreign customers. Igla-S remains a high-performance missile and is better in many specifications of other missiles fielded by armed forces of a number of countries.
Q: Is Verba offered for export?
A: Now we may do it. We were granted the export permission certificate.
Q: What are the figures of fulfillment of the state defence order 2016 by KBM?
A: All our obligations to Russia's MoD are implemented. We have delivered two brigade-level Iskander-M SRBM system sets, brigade level Verba MANPADS sets, so in general the year is coming to a successful end including research and development programs.
Moreover, this year have seen state trials of two systems. One of them is the Khrizantema-SP antitank missile system, that is a Khrizantema-S version less Ukrainian components the major of which the sight, now we use a Russian sight with better performances including night firing capability in the laser control channel. The state trials were completed in August.
Q: What about re-equipment at KBM?
A: The process advances as planned. The need for it is composed of two parts. First, extension of manufacturing capabilities because the old equipment doesn't support production of a number of up-to-date components. Second, realization of large-scale production. For example, to ensure the current supply of missile brigades with our systems, we had to increase production output by 4…5 times.
One important facet to the re-equipping is that it is accompanied by entry into work of young employees who are well versed in computers, rather well trained, but they don't ‘sense microns’ with their fingertips as do our veterans, that's why production equipment must be high-precision and smart.
Q: What's the situation with import substitution at KBM?
A: In my opinion, there is no possibility of a one-hundred percent import substitution. We cannot shut in from the outside world, not any country closed up from the world is capable of achieving the best results in all domains. But I agree with the opinion that where somebody can have a stranglehold on us we must avoid the use of foreign components. If viewed in that regard, the matter is settled. They will not have their stranglehold on us.
Aleksey Pan'shin, TASS news agency correspondent