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    NATO’s Worst Nightmare: Russia’s Kaliningrad Is Armed to the Teeth

    Since the accession of the Baltic nations into NATO, the region of Kaliningrad has been considered a strategic hotspot. Sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, it is one of the major Russian ports that has access to Baltic Sea. Due to its location, Russian missiles and ships stationed in the region have the capability to deny significant areas of operation to American or European forces. Russian units stationed in Kaliningrad have a very strong preemptive strike capability against the Polish and Baltic militaries, as well as any of their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners in the region. Of all of these threats, the biggest one Russia poses from Kaliningrad is their deployment of Iskander-M ballistic missiles. NATO, including the nearby Baltic nations and Poland, currently have very little ability to counter these Russian forces.
    With a published range of over 400km and a speculated range of over 500km, the Iskander would be capable of attacking every single Polish naval installation on the coast, as well as any installations in the Baltic states. While Poland’s procurement of the defensive ABM-capable PAC-3 Patriot missiles may mitigate this problem, it’s not clear whether countering the Iskanders is a planned role for the Patriots. Poland certainly would be wise to do so, as the Patriot is the only system in the region that has a chance of intercepting an Iskander. Older systems such as the Newa variants used by Poland are only effective against slow cruise missiles and aircraft. At the same time, Russia is phasing out its own older Tochka-U missiles based in Kaliningrad in favor of more Iskanders.
    These Iskander-Ms would probably be used in combination with other weapons systems in the event of a preemptive strike. For example, air-launched cruise missiles (ACLMs) could be launched by planes from inside Russia. While there are no concrete figures on stockpiles of Russia’s ACLMs, Russia possesses numerous systems that could strike any target in Poland. The most common would be various variants of the Kh-55 and Kh-101 ALCM. These can be mounted on three different types of planes; the Tu-22M3, Tu-95MS and Tu-160. Notably, Tu-22M3s have been seen flying around the Baltic region and therefore are likely candidates for any ACLM attack. Furthermore, because these ACLMs have ranges in excess of thousands of kilometers, they wouldn’t even need to be launched from planes based in Kaliningrad to hit NATO targets in the Polish and Baltic region.
    In addition to ALCMs and Ballistic Missiles, there is a sizable contingent of the Russian Navy stationed at Kaliningrad. While some of these vessels are currently under refit or repair, its unknown how many could be rushed into service in event of a conflict. The primary vessels that could augment a preemptive strike are the two Project 21631 Buyan-M ships, which have two four-cell UKSK launchers, which can fire the Kalibr cruise missile, which was proven in combat in Syria. There also are two Kilo-class submarines based in Kaliningrad with the capability to fire Kalibrs.
    The rest of the Russian fleet stationed in Kaliningrad is focused on anti-surface, anti-submarine, and anti-air warfare, with the heaviest focus on anti-surface. This is carried out by one Sovremenny-class destroyer, two Neutrashimy-class frigates, four Steregushchiy-class frigates (corvettes in Russian designation), four Nanushka-III class corvettes, and seven Tarantul-II and Tarantul-III corvettes. All of these carry Anti-Ship missiles as a primary armament, ranging from the supersonic P-270 Moskit anti-ship missile (which also has limited land attack capability) to the newer subsonic Kh-35 anti-ship missile (AShM). The Buyan-Ms can also equip P-800 Onyks AshMs in their UKSK cells, further augmenting the fleet’s anti-surface capability if needed. Various other corvettes are also fielded in Kaliningrad, but they lack significant anti-surface or anti-air capability.

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