Belarusian military units operating Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems have returned from combat training in Russia and begun their first active combat training in Belarus itself, according to reports from the country’s defence ministry. It was revealed that these specialists had been trained in handling tactical nuclear munitions, after it was confirmed in late 2022 that Russia and Belarus would enter into a nuclear sharing agreement, and in March 2023 that the Iskanders would be a prime delivery vehicle for this arsenal. The delivery of Iskanders to Belarus, although long rumoured, was first confirmed only in June 2022 with these commencing very soon afterwards. The warheads will remain in Russian custody in peacetime in bases on Belarusian soil, and will be transferred to Belarusian forces immediately in the event of war – mirroring the nuclear sharing agreement the United States maintains with multiple NATO members such as Germany and the Netherlands. Belarus is also jointly developing a new derivative of the Iskander with Russia, which is expected to have complementary capabilities to the original systems currently being supplied from Russian production lines. The Iskander is considered one of the world’s leading tactical ballistic missile systems in terms of performance, and forms the core of Russian tactical strike capabilities, with its missiles’ unique low trajectories and high terminal speeds making them extremely difficult to intercept.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry reported regarding training of personnel to use Iskanders and their warheads that “the teams of a separate missile battalion armed with Iskander-M tactical missile systems have begun active combat training on their permanent deployment site,” and “that training in Russia focused on “further developing the practical skills of preparing the missile system for its employment, the training in its deployment, and carrying combat training launches.” “The personnel of the teams studied in detail the issues of maintaining and employing tactical special munitions for the Iskander-M tactical missile system,” it added. Belarus has invested very conservatively in modernising its ground and aerial warfare capabilities since the end of the Cold War, with only a very small portion of defence spending being allocated to acquisitions while many of the country’s higher end weapons systems inherited from the Soviet Union have been sold off or placed in storage to reduce operational costs. Examples include its top fighter the Su-27 placed in storage, with two sold to the United States, its high end MiG-25BM air defence suppression aircraft dismantled, its T-80 tanks exported to Yemen and its Su-24M strike fighters sold to Sudan. The result is a lean ground force which, while considered well trained, fields relatively little high end equipment. This makes the Iskander missiles appear particularly valuable as an asymmetric asset to face the growing NATO presence on its border, which Minsk has on multiple occasions referred to as a major threat.