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.