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The ambitions of Belarusian authorities exceed the technical capabilities of MLRS “Polonaise”. This means that the missile program in the foreseeable future will remain a priority for senior military and political leaders of the country.
On November 3, 2015 Alexander Lukashenko visited the republican production unitary enterprise “Precision Electromechanical Plant” in Dziarzhinsk district. During the visit he announced the information that allows to draw certain conclusions about the prospects for the development of national missile program.
“Polonaise+”. “China’s participation” in “Polonaise” project was officially recognized. The initial project was MLRS AR3 of company «NORINCO» that can fire both 370 mm and 300 mm missiles. The open question is the maximum range of “Polonaise” and AR3. For example, some sources claim that it is 290 km for the 370-mm guided missile, the other — 280 km. However, these 10 km are not so important.
At the moment as an interim outcome Belarus has MLRS capable of hitting targets with precision munitions of Chinese production (yet) at a range of 20-280 km. One missile weight is about 1-1.1 tonne, i.e. general “combat load” of a launcher can be more than 10 tonnes.
The responsible military officials openly say that in the future the capacity of “Polonaise” will be built up through the use of more powerful and long-range missiles. As an option – the similar to ones, used for Chinese MLRS family “WS-2” (“Weishi” — Defender). Special attention should be paid to the modification of the MRL “WS-2D” (caliber of 425 mm) with a range of 400 km, which allows to fill the niche of short-range missiles. MLRS “WS-2D” is equipped with controlled missiles, and can be equipped with various warheads, including a cluster one of the new type, which carries three special self-guided munitions. In any case, the weight and size parameters of the launcher allow the use of missiles used for “WS-2D”. Another thing is that the combat vehicle can carry no more than 6 of these missiles.
Forever “fashionable” TOMC. Tactical operational missile complex (hereinafter TOMC) 9K79-1 “Tochka-U” is the only one available at the National Army. It was put into service in 1989. At the moment the missiles are out of warranty service and for several years have already been being in forced extension of the after-warranty use. The problem of their replacement is really pressing now. Given the fact that Belarusian army traditionally has been poor as a church mouse, it is likely that “Tochka-U” will be replaced by MLRS “Polonaise”. However, judging by the statements of November 3, 2015, the country leaders’ ambitions exceed the possibilities of “Polonaise” by far. In this connection, it seems logical that based on the special relationship with China, Belarus will get the TOMC. Especially since China offers such products for export:
— single-stage TOMC M-11 (DF-11) with a range of up to 350 km and a warhead weighing up to 800 kg, and its modification DF-11A weighing 4,2 tonnes, with range increased to 500 km, but warhead of smaller mass (500 kg);
— DF-15 (export version of the M-9), weighing 6.2 tons, having a range of 600 km and a warhead weighing 500 kg (monoblock, chemical, thermobaric and cassette ones). Because of reduction of warhead mass to 320 kg, DF-15A has a range of up to 800 km, and a new guidance system has improved its accuracy up to 30-45 m;
— M-18 with a monoblock warhead (400-500 kg) having a range of 1,000 km, which is a two-stage modification of the M-9 missile.
However, China isn’t the only possible partner. Not only the Chinese experience, but also Serbian and Turkish one is used in the development of national missile program. For example, Turkey has TOMC J-600T Yıldırım of several modifications. Currently, a missile with a range of 900 km is being developed. It is worth noting that at the time the Turkish missile program also started to develop on the basis of Chinese technology.
Cruise missiles. In this case, because of the special nature of relations of official Minsk with Kiev and Islamabad, the special attention should be paid to the project of Pakistani cruise missile “Babur” (“Hatf-7”), weighing about 1.5 tons. It is based on American “Tomahawk Block 3”. The missile is equipped with turbojet engine MS-400 (R95-300) produced by the Ukrainian company “Motor Sich”. Proven range is 700 km with a fairly high rate of accuracy. Air-based modification of “Babur” is called “Raad ALCM” and has a range of 350 km. It is carried by light fighters of Pakistan Air Force JF-17, Mirage III and Mirage V. It allows counting on the possibility of integration of “Raad” in armament complex of the MiG-29.
Conclusion. Summing up, we can note the following directions of development of the “Polonaise” project:
— Heavy MLRS with a range of 400 km and 4-6 missiles on the launcher;
— TOMC with 1-2 missiles on the launcher;
— Land-based cruise missiles with 4-6 missiles on the launcher.
The second problem is in the field of the international obligations of our country. Belarus is a member of the US-Soviet treaty “On the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles”, according to which our country is not allowed to be armed with land-based missiles with a range greater than 500 km. Taking into account the situation in the region, at the moment the Treaty is discriminatory, and in an amicable way it should have long been denounced. But unilateral withdrawal of Minsk from the agreement will clearly entail negative reaction of Russia, the US and the EU. Given the fact that the Belarusian authorities are not prone to sharp movements in the international arena, the Treaty will continue to be a stop-factor for the development of missile technologies in Belarus.
The second limitation is the Missile Technology Control, which requires member-states to refrain from (but doesn’t totally prohibit) the exports of missile weapons systems with a range of more than 300 km and a warhead weighing more than 500 kg. But the joint development is not prohibited. Given the fact that the potential TOMC and cruise missiles in any case will have to be adapted to the requirements of the abovementioned Soviet-American treaty.
Official Minsk has consistently sought to distance itself from the confrontation between Russia and the West. This in turn requires the increase of level of independence in defence matters, which are currently largely “tied” to Moscow. The national program to create missiles of various classes should be considered to be one of the tools to guarantee this independence. However, this program is not related to the current confrontation in the region, as it has been being implemented with varying degrees of intensity for 8 years already. By a strange coincidence, 2007 was marked by the first (and most severe) gas war between Russia and Belarus.