The Russian Kalibr cruise missile was first used in combat against Syrian targets in late 2015 in a show of modern, offensive capability by the Russian Navy. The missile is a supersonic weapon system in contrast to the American subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile that is well known from conflicts around the globe over the last quarter century. This high penetration speed allows the Kalibr to possibly defeat Western air defense systems and deliver a nuclear or conventional warhead against a land-based target.
The range of the missile is thought to be over 1500 miles. This long range is what makes the Kalibr so deadly. In a further evolution of naval capability, Russia has mounted these missile systems on almost anything that can float. Asymmetric warfare is the name of the game here. American carriers are a substantial threat to her adversaries and a large number of small ships with supersonic cruise missile capability significantly ramps up the threat to the U.S. carrier force.
The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence recently released a report on the Russian navy’s modernization and new strategy and tactics. Plans to install the Russian navy’s new KALIBR-class missiles even on vessels such as corvettes, or small warships, “is profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten or destroy adversary targets,” the U.S. agency, known as ONI, said in a report posted on its website. “With the use of the land attack missile, all platforms have a significant ability to hold distant fixed ground targets at risk using conventional warheads,” according to Bloomberg.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told the Senate Armed Services Committee last September that tests of the nuclear version of the Kalibr also violate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, or INF, between Russia and the United States. Russia denies the missile system violates the agreement. Work stated that if Russia continues with the missile’s development, the United States would retaliate in kind.
Bottom line: the Kalibr is a game changer for Russia in a variety of ways. The long-range sea-based capability is a valued new force multiplier for the Russian military. The nuclear intermediate range missile provides a close in, first strike capability in Europe that the West at the moment can’t match. These qualities make the Kalibr a very dangerous system indeed.