18:04 Nov. 28, 2016
Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab probed Russia's deployment of Bal and Bastion missiles to Kaliningrad and the Kuril Islands
On November 21, a source at the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that Russia had deployed Bastion missile launchers to Kaliningrad, an enclave bordering two NATO members, Lithuania and Poland. On November 22, at the other end of Russia, Bal missile launchers were reportedly deployed to the southernmost Kuril island, Kunashir, while Bastion launchers were deployed to the next island north in the chain, Iturup.
The Bastion launchers fire supersonic Oniks cruise missiles, which are designed to be used against surface ships, but can also be used against ground targets. According to the website of the Oniks' constructor, NPO Mashinostroeniya, the range of the export variant is 300km, the weight of the warhead is 200 kg, and it is suitable for use against large vessels including landing ships and carrier battle groups.
A diagram published by the manufacturer indicates that the weapon is designed for use with an array of external inputs such as land-, sea- and air-based radars:
The Bal anti-ship system, meanwhile, has a range of 130km, according to its manufacturer Tactical Missile Weaponry Corporation (Корпорация "Тактическое ракетное вооружение"). The weight of the warhead is 145kg, and it is advertised as being suitable for use against smaller vessels: "rocket, torpedo and artillery cutters, surface ships with a displacement of up to 5000 tons, and surface transports."
Bastion launchers were first used in combat in Syria in mid-November. A 23-second video showing Bastion launchers in action in Syria was posted on RT's Youtube channel on November 15:
The press office of the Western Military District confirmed that Bastion launcher would be incorporated into the coastal missile division of the Baltic Fleet. The unit most likely to receive the Bastion system is therefore the 25th Separate Coastal Missile Regiment (military unit 39108) located in Donskoye.
More information is available on the Kuril deployment. Russian media reported that Bastion and Bal missile divisions in the Kuril islands would reinforce the newly-formed 72nd Separate Coastal Missile Brigade unit of the Pacific Fleet. The brigade is based in Smolyaninovo, 45 kilometers away from Vladivostok.
The deployment in Kaliningrad certainly caused concern in the Baltic States and Poland. According to military experts interviewed by the Russian media, the range of the missile launchers would allow Russia's Baltic Fleet to close the entry to the Baltic Sea through Danish waters and reach all possible targets on the territory of Poland.
On November 21, the US state department criticized the deployment and said it was "destabilizing to Russian security." State Department's spokesperson added: "We call on Russia to refrain from words or deeds that are inconsistent with the goal of promoting security and stability."
Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov defended the deployment on November 22, arguing it was a response to NATO's expansion: "Russia is doing all that is necessary to protect itself from NATO's expansion towards its borders. NATO is indeed an aggressive bloc."
The Lithuanian Ministry of Defense also criticized the deployment, warning NATO that the move is aimed at constraining the movement of NATO ships in the Baltic sea.
These concerns are certainly valid. The combined deployment of Bal, Bastion and Kalibr missiles gives Russia a multi-layered bubble of anti-ship weaponry capable of at least challenging NATO's access to the eastern Baltic, and, in particular, the three Baltic States.
The Kuril Island deployment also raised regional tensions, as Iturup and Kunashir are disputed territories between Japan and Russia.
The deployment of Bal missiles to Lagunnoye gives Russia the ability to target ships approaching from Japan, and to reach the north-eastern tip of the island of Hokkaido.
Read also Japan mulls response to Russian missiles
Russia's missile battery on Iturup island (by DFRLab)
The deployment of Bastion and Bal missile launchers to the eastern and western ends of Russian territory increases the Kremlin's military options, and reinforces its anti-access / area denial capabilities along the coastline of countries which it presents as hostile.
However, in the Baltic, the deployment should not be seen as a game-changer. It reinforces the existing A2/AD bubble, but it does not greatly expand it.
The move to the Kurils, however, is more significant. As we have seen, there is currently no coastal missile regiment deployed to the islands. The arrival of the Bal and Bastion launchers, for at least another four months, therefore adds a new capability into the mix. Japan has indicated its displeasure by diplomatic means. The question now remains whether it will take other countermeasures.