It’s interesting that the US and Russia, with very different defense requirements and threat scenarios, often end up fielding weapons that, while not mirror images, are at least quite analogous to one another.

When the Army fielded the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), soon after fielded ATACMS*, in which instead of a pod of six rockets, one pod would carry one large long range Army Tactical Missile System guided semi-ballistic missile.

ATACMS (“Attack ‘ems!”) was first used in Desert Storm to neutralized an Iraqi surface to air missile site.


The Russians, never slouches in the artillery and tactical missile fields, have two different platforms. They field the Smerch as the counterpart to our MLRS. And they field the 9K720 Iskandar-M short range tactical ballistic missile in place of ATACMS.


Iskandar has a somewhat longer range, around 500km versus 300km for ATACMS. ATACMS has either a cluster bomblet warhead or a single 500lb warhead, where Iskandar has cluster bomblet, unitary or possibly a nuclear payload, and somewhat larger at that, at around 2000lb.

Both weapons, while flying a semi-ballistic path, are guided throughout the flight, rather than being true ballistic weapons. Inertial navigation with satellite updates (that’s GPS or its Russian cousin GLONASS) gives them excellent accuracy.

Typical targets would be air defense sites, airfields, command and control centers, logistics centers or other similar high value targets.  There are unconfirmed reports that Russia employed Iskandar against a tank depot during its brief war with Georgia over South Ossetia in 2008. The Dutch government concluded that a Dutch national present as a reporter was killed by a fragment from one in the vicinity of Gori.

One reason the US and its NATO allies are concerned about Iskandar-M is that it can reach deep into Western European territories when launched from within Russia. When the US reached an agreement with Poland to install ground based ballistic missile defense on Polish territory, Russia responded by announcing it would station Iskandar launch brigades in the Kalinangrad district, within range of the proposed US installations.  When the US dumped the proposal, the Russians decreed they would not deploy to Kaliningrad. Until eventually they did anyway.

But the real concern is that the Russians have used the launcher vehicle and associated control systems to test and field a new ground launched cruise missile. The missile in question, the R-500, has a reported range of 2000km. That puts Russia in direct violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Of course, in the face of a blatant violation of the treaty, the entirety of the Obama administration’s response was to send a mildly worded letter.

Deep strike missiles such as the ATACMS and Iskandar are a quick response, precise alternative to airstrikes. But they require significant intelligence collection and dissemination to support targeting, and very close coordination with air assets to deconflict airspace. 


*After a very protracted development that saw several different names and configurations.

11 thoughts on “Iskandar-M”

  1. The Israelis should MLRS to provide counter battery fire for rockets launched into Israel from Gaza. Not only would it demonstrate to the Palestinians the proper way to employ rocket fire, but it would surely put an end to rocket attacks from Gaza – one way or another.

    1. Taking out a grid square in exchange for harassment fire? Yeah, that sounds like an appropriate response.

      Exactly what the Israelis did this last time is the appropriate response. The actual sites were hit, civilian casualties were minimized, and if it wasn’t for skewed media reporting, people would have realized the tactics were plenty enough effective.

      1. Even worse, MLRS (unguided cluster bomblets) would do little damage to any terrorists that simply scooted inside the nearest mosque, school, or other building.

      1. I’m pretty OK with a certain level of disproportionate response. But… It helps if it is effective in destroying your target. Further, as M1 notes, Israel is uniquely vulnerable to international enmity for any military response they make.

  2. One reason the US and its NATO allies are concerned about Iskandar-M is that it can reach deep into Western European territories when launched from within Russia.

    We need to return East Prussia to the Reich and push the Reds back into the swamps and forests far to the east, where they belong!

  3. Have to pull out a map and do some measuring, but we / NATO / Western Europe has a signficant security zone that it never had previously in the form of Eastern Europe. Also a nice place to pre-position lots of trip wires in the form of US / NATO training. That’s what Operation Atlantic Resolve provides right now, which I imagine is pretty reassuring to our new NATO Allies and partners and regional friends.

    1. To play devil’s advocate for a bit, and take a look from the Russian perspective, that huge gain of a security zone in eastern Europe is, of course, a huge loss of a security zone that Russia has traditionally relied upon. They DO have legitimate security concerns there. In the short term, does a Western aligned eastern Europe plan to attack Russia? Nope. But in the long term, Russia has been invaded enough times they see no reason to NOT claim eastern Europe as a buffer.

    2. It is typical Russian chutzpah to claim they need to own Poland because they’ve been invaded through Poland so many times. The most serious threats to Russia (1812, 1917-18, 1941) developed precisely because Russia had, in conjunction with France or German, destroyed Poland. Create a border between yourself and Napoleon or Hitler, and don’t expect me to feel sorry for you when they attack you.

      And let’s not forget that an important Russian reason to partition Poland was not defensive, but offensive — Russia wanted a springboard, not a buffer.

    3. While I understand the Russian “not one invader’s boot shall ever tread on the Motherland again” philosophy behind desiring a buffer, the Russians sometimes seem to (covieniently?) forget their inherent defense of soo much space. Granted, the Moscow-St. Petersburg corridor is the cultural center of modern Russia, but they remember the last war and much of there military industry and reserves are safely farther east.

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