A new brigade of Iskander-M tactical ballistic systems has been commissioned into the Belarusian Army, with this closely following the country’s entry into a nuclear weapons sharing agreement with Russia. It has been confirmed that the Iskander is a primary delivery vehicle for potential nuclear strikes by Belarusian forces, which will be given access to Russian nuclear warheads stored on their territory in the event of a major war with NATO. In parallel to acquisitions of Iskanders from Russia, Belarus is also developing its own ballistic missile systems jointly with Russia which will be based on the Iskander, but is expected to benefit from a longer range. The first units of Belarusian operators for nuclear warheads and Iskander systems returned from training in Russian in April 2023, and the country the following month simulated launching nuclear strikes in exercises with its Iskander systems. Russia has managed to maintain deliveries of the assets to Belarus despite very high demand domestically for use in the war in Ukraine, as well as for expanded deployments near Russia’s borders with NATO including with neighbouring Finland which joined the alliance in April. Demand for Iskander systems has been satisfied by a tremendous expansion in production within the last twelve months, as while the assets have long since been prioritised for rapid acquisitions output has reportedly surged several times over to meet increased demand.
The Iskander system provides Russia and Belarus with a means of countering the numerically far greater forces of the NATO alliance, and can facilitate strikes on key targets ranging from infantry units to airbases and command centres with high precision and leaving little chance of interception. Swedish analysts at Svenska Dagbladet were among several to highlight that it provided a “completely new military capacity.” “The trajectory of the missile is not quite a ballistic one; [it] can manoeuvre, but it is unable, say, to rise if it is already falling to the ground… The Iskander can reach very high speeds when the missile is directed downwards, some 2-3 kilometres per second [Mach 5.8 to 8.7]. To be able to shoot down a missile at such speeds, a very advanced air defence missile is required. Also, the missile must be very close to the target,” they observed. Belarus previously deployed an older Soviet ballistic missile system, the OTR-21 Tochka, with some sources speculating that these could be sold to Russia for use in Ukraine since they are nearing the end of their service lives. The Tochka has a far shorter range and is considerably less difficult to intercept, while among its other shortcomings it cannot be retargeted after firing and cannot carry the same diversity of warheads as the Iskander-M. Belarus has complemented its Iskander acquisitions with investment in a range of new systems including Mi-35 attack helicopters, S-400 air defence systems and Su-30SM fighters, although the Iskander and S-400 have had the greatest impact on its strategic position due to their asymmetric value and low operational costs with the latter factor allowing them to be fielded in much greater numbers.