One of Russia's most alarming new weapons capabilities may be on the move soon. Jane's reports that KBM, a state-owned armament company specializing in missile systems, recently presented its 9K333 Verba man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS).
At an arms fair this week, the company announced that the weapon had been cleared for export — although KBM designer Gen. Velariy Kashin would not reveal the foreign buyer or buyers.
Kashin described the 9K333 Verba as "the most capable" MANPADS ever developed, according to Jane's. Missiles are guided to their targets using a "three-channel optical seeker, which operates in the ultraviolet, near-infrared, and mid-infrared wavelengths," a feature that increases the weapon's accuracy and speeds up its target acquisition. – Business Insider, June 19, 2015
During the Cold War, American soldiers learned to fear the Soviet Union's advanced weaponry and fanatical communist foot soldiers. Where did we get this fear? Our leaders instilled it in us.
As it turned out, the fears were misplaced. We learned in the 1990s that most Soviet-era weapons threatened their hapless users far more than they would have hurt us. Some of our own equipment was not much better, frankly, despite costing exponentially more.
However, one weapons category worked well enough to change the course of history. The portable Redeye and Stinger antiaircraft missiles the U.S. supplied to Afghani mujahedeen quickly cleared that nation's skies of Soviet helicopters. The vaunted Red Army went back home after taking heavy losses. A few years later, it ceased being Red. Then it stopped being an "army" in any recognizable sense, too.
Fast-forward 20 years. It would be no surprise if the Verba missiles that Vladimir Putin just released for export don't work as advertised. If they do, however, they could potentially give insurgents around the world a key advantage over the U.S. government and its various client regimes.
We saw what could happen when "someone" shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine last year. The weapon in that case appears to have been a track-mounted Russian missile. Such launchers need well-trained crews and take time to move around. Not so for the Verba; it weighs 50 pounds and can hide inside a small truck or boat. Operating it isn't difficult, either.
The Verba's claimed vertical range is around 14,000 feet. That means no airport on the planet will be safe unless reliable ground forces secure near-total control for several miles in all directions. ISIS will be the least of our worries in that situation.
Again, this weapon may not work as well as its maker claims. Nevertheless, the perception it might work could change the geopolitical landscape quickly.
Russia can sell these missiles to whomever it wishes. That being the case, the recent Western saber rattling at Putin could start to look even more misguided. Backing a rat into a corner is almost never a good idea. Take away his other choices and he will turn vicious.
There is a potentially positive side, however. American military aircraft can avoid these missiles by not flying into war zones in which they have no business anyway. Maybe losing our perceived aerial invulnerability will persuade the public not to support so many overseas interventions.
Not that it will matter. The military-industrial complex can buy all the support it needs.