Russia’s Pacific Threat

Russia’s Pacific Threat

Even as Russia suffers significant losses in Ukraine, its Pacific threat is expanding.

It is understandable to see China as the dominant threat in the Pacific, but unfortunately, it is not alone.

Lowry Institute study notes that “Moscow has moved beyond platitudes about a ‘turn to the East’ and is pursuing a multi-dimensional approach towards the region: reinforcing the partnership with China; reaching out to other major players; and promoting itself as a significant security and economic contributor.”

According to Admiral John C. Aquilino, who leads the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, “Russia also presents serious risks to the United States as well as our allies and partners, and has the ability to threaten the homeland. As evident from their unprovoked and unjustified attack on the Ukraine, Russia has no regard for international law, its own prior commitments, or any principles that uphold global peace.”

In mid-2021, the Russian Pacific Fleet completed the largest naval exercise since the Soviet era, deploying approximately 20 ships, including the fleet’s flagship and other large combatants, to within 20-30 nautical miles off the Hawaiian island of Oahu. While in the area, Russia twice flew Tu-95 strategic bombers into the region as a further show of force, and an intelligence collection ship operated near Hawaii before, during, and after the exercise. All these actions were an attempt to demonstrate expeditionary and long-range strike capabilities.

He notes that Russia’s Eastern Military District continues to field new and improved weapons and platforms across all services. These expanding capabilities threaten the United States and our allies, including Japan, particularly in connection with its territorial dispute with Russia over the southern Kuril Islands.

The Russian Pacific Fleet increased its precision land attack and anti-ship cruise missile capacity in 2021 with two new upgraded Kilo-class submarines, one guided-missile frigate, and the modernization of one guided-missile destroyer. Eleven more new ships and submarines are expected to arrive in the next four years, including at least two Severodvinsk II class nuclear cruise missile submarines and four more advanced Kilo submarines.

The Russian Pacific Fleet employs Kalibr cruise missiles and the newly tested Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles. In the air domain, Moscow recently announced it would station its most advanced fighter aircraft, the fifth generation Su-57, in the Eastern Military District.

These aircraft will join an air defense structure already boasting significant numbers of fourth-generation fighters, interceptors, and advanced air defense missiles, including the state-of-the-art S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Since 2016, Russia has stationed coastal defense cruise missiles (CDCM) in the disputed Kuril Islands, expanding its capability to threaten Japan and potentially U.S. forces. Moscow announced in late 2021 formation of a new CDCM unit to make their presence permanent.

Russia maintains a modern nuclear triad with upgraded Tu-95MSM bombers, armed with new Kh-101/102 land-attack cruise missiles. New capabilities will include at least one Dolgorukiy II class nuclear ballistic submarine, which will join two Dolgorukiy I missile submarines already in the Pacific Fleet, and a special purpose Belogorod nuclear submarine that Moscow announced would arrive in 2022. The Belogorod will carry the Poseidon unmanned nuclear weapon.

The first launch of the SARMAT heavy ICBM is expected by mid-2022. Russia is rapidly advancing its space and counter-space capabilities, conducting the thirdhighest number of space launches in 2021.

Russia is also developing a suite of anti-satellite capabilities, such as the PL-19 Nudol direct ascent missile, high-powered lasers, and various electronic warfare systems. These capabilities allow Russia to disrupt or destroy adversary satellites during peacetime or conflict. Moscow’s extensive cyber capabilities are well known and globally active. Advanced and emerging techniques, including artificial intelligence-enabled deep fakes, coupled with existing and new relationships with deniable proxy groups, are expected to expand Russia’s ability to deceive, deny, and destroy adversary networks and control systems.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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