The Russian Defence Ministry has seen its orders for Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems met at a significantly accelerated rate, with the CEO of the Machine-Building Design Bureau responsible for producing the systems, Sergey Pitikov, stating at the Army-2023 Forum that “supplies surged by several times.” The Defence Ministry was reported by state media to have awarded a further contract for the systems during the forum, with both the war in Ukraine and escalated tensions with NATO having the effect of increasing demand for the assets considerably. While the Russian Armed Forces maintain significant stockpiles of missiles for the Iskander-M system, the bulk of the arsenal is relied on to counter NATO in a event of an escalation of current hostilities meaning it cannot be utilised in the war in Ukraine. This has limited its ability to utilise the assets in the theatre, with Iskander strikes appearing to be reserved for priority targets.
The Iskander saw limited combat use in Georgia in 2008 and possibly in Syria from 2017, with its capabilities based closely on those of the Soviet OTR-23 Oka system and in particular the enhanced Oka-U variant. With the Oka-U having been well under development by 1991, Russia managed to operationalise many of its key features after the USSR’s disintegration with relatively little extra work. Indeed, the Iskander-M is widely claimed to be near identical to the Oka-U and to in fact be the same program albeit renamed for the post-Soviet era. Outside of China and the Koreas the missile system has no peer level competitors in terms of performance, with Swedish analysts at Svenska Dagbladet highlighting 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. Russia’s air power disadvantages relative to the collective strength of NATO has made asymmetric surface to surface assets such as the Iskander particularly important for it to retain a credible counter strike capability.