Wavell Room
Image default
Automation and TechnologyCapabilities and SpendingConcepts and DoctrineLandOpinionShort Read

Big Toys: British, Ground-Launched, Long-Range Precision Strike

As technology rapidly evolves, large-scale armoured warfare between peer enemies appears increasingly anachronistic and improbable 1.  In particular, developments in conventional Long-Range Precision Strike systems have undoubtedly altered the character of peer-on-peer warfare.  In Russia and China, new ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles have emerged successfully from their research and development programmes and are being operationally fielded in large numbers.  Across the land, air and maritime domains, these new anti-access/area denial (A2AD02 complexes are threatening to render NATO’s traditional approach of graduated force deployment obsolete, as NATO platforms face the prospect of destruction at the point of theatre entry, well before they reach the close battle.  Indeed, given these developments in Long-Range Precision Strike capability, NATO’s superiority in the armoured close battle is facing irrelevance3.

Russia, in particular, has led the way in strategic A2AD development, and Long-Range Precision Strike forms the core of this powerful Russian capability.  Over the past twenty years, while Western militaries have been cognitively and physically fixed on Asiatic counter-insurgency campaigns, Moscow has invested large amounts of time and resource in generating a diverse range of Long-Range Precision Strike delivery systems.  As a result, Russia now has an operationally-fielded, multi-domain-launched (air, sea and land), Long-Range Precision Strike capability, using ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles.  This conventional missile array ranges out to 4,500km, easily covering the United Kingdom from territorial Russia.  Most notably, many of these systems are thought to be immune from NATO’s existing Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) umbrella.  A concise summary of Russia’s conventional Long-Range Precision Strike systems is laid out in Appendix 1 below4.  

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1987 prohibited the development of ground-launched conventional and nuclear missile systems with a range of between 500km and 5,500km.  It is now clear that Russia has contravened the INF Treaty, and has done so at scale.  Due to its more honest adherence to the INF Treaty, alongside its generational distraction by counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, the United States has found itself lagging behind Russia in Long-Range Precision Strike development. Indeed, the United States has recently threatened to fully withdraw from the INF Treaty, given Russia’s non-compliance. 

Withdrawal from the INF Treaty would at least allow the US to rapidly progress its own ground-launched, Long-Range Precision Strike development programme.  Indeed, rather than adopt a purely defensive posture, based primarily on the forward-deployment of a US BMD network into continental Europe, it stands to reason that NATO would seek to offensively match Russia’s Long-Range Precision Strike capability.  This would hold Russian infrastructure and military assets at risk below the nuclear threshold, in the same way that Russia now holds European assets at risk through its own conventional missile array.  A NATO Long-Range Precision Strike capability, based in Europe, would form a strategic conventional deterrent to Russian aggression, filling the critical escalatory gap between the employment of small-scale ‘tripwire battalions’ in Eastern Europe, and a nuclear response following an Article V infraction.  As US attention is drawn increasingly towards China, the US Government would welcome a European nation leading on the provision of a Long-Range Precision Strike umbrella for continental Europe, as long as the capability were also available for NATO use5.  This article proposes that the United Kingdom should become the lead provider of a European Long-Range Precision Strike capability.

A British Long-Range Precision Strike missile array would form a strategic conventional umbrella over continental Europe.  It would be the United Kingdom’s most significant contribution to European security below the nuclear threshold.  It stands to reason that this would buy tangible influence for the United Kingdom in a post-BREXIT environment, both within the European Union as a collective body and across individual member states, the majority of whom are also NATO members.  Moreover, the positive influence effect would manifest at the point of policy announcement, well before the point of operational roll-out.

To enhance survivability, a credible Long-Range Precision Strike capability would require cross-domain launch options (air, land and sea), using both cruise and ballistic missiles as delivery vehicles. While British air and naval forces already employ Storm Shadow and Tomahawk cruise missiles respectively, these capabilities are currently too few in number to form the basis of a strategic conventional deterrent.  On land, while the United Kingdom is not a signatory to the INF Treaty, a US withdrawal from the Treaty would politically free the UK to develop ground-launched missile systems, in potentially large numbers.  Providing host nation political agreement is obtained, some ground-launched systems could be forward-positioned as part of the enduring British footprint in Germany to extend their range, as well as within the Sovereign Base Area of Cyprus in order to hold Middle Eastern adversaries at risk (note, Iran has also developed a Long-Range Precision Strike capability covering a significant percentage of continental Europe6).  In parallel, the United Kingdom should progress with its development of hypersonic missile variants, in order to remain technologically in-step with NATO’s primary adversaries.    

A graduated array of missile ranges would need to be developed, allowing policy options at both the strategic and operational levels. Strategically, missile ranges of at least 2,000km should be developed, while systems should also maintain operational-level utility through their ability to strike focused military targets at shorter ranges during active hostilities.  Various missile ranges are proposed at the end of this article (Appendix 2).  To avoid single-service parochialisms, the full suite of British Long-Range Precision Strike capabilities could be commanded by the newly re-branded British Strategic Command (STRATCOM) when employed in their deterrent role at steady-state, and then made available to CJO, or NATO commanders, for operational use during active hostilities. 

A British Long-Range Precision Strike capability must be affordable.  In this regard, cost-effectiveness is the principal benefit of ground-launched systems compared to their air and sea-launched equivalents.  In the latter two domains, new missile systems would probably require the development or procurement of new capital platforms.  At the very least, existing air and naval platforms would require significant modification.  By comparison, a ground-launched, Long-Range Precision Strike capability, using a suite of mobile erector-launcher systems, would be less capital-intensive, as these ground-based delivery platforms would be smaller and relatively cheaper.  To reinforce the point, the cost-effective nature of ground-launched missile systems is one the primary reasons why these capabilities are starting to strategically proliferate amongst NATO’s adversaries.  

As a financially compensating measure, it stands to reason that other British land force capabilities could be rationalised.  Instead of pursuing the current trajectory of organising and equipping a Division to be held at readiness for improbablelarge-scale armoured combat, the Army could re-focus on generating elite Brigade-sized intervention capabilities for employment across the spectrum of air assault, commando amphibious and light role functions, with some residual, smaller-scale armoured capability.  Such rapidly-deployable, elite intervention capabilities, protected by the umbrella of a Long-Range Precision Strike missile array, would represent a more potent capability than a heavier, more unwieldy and strategically-unprotected armoured force, and would certainly offer policy-makers a much more impressive notice-to-effect7.

Appendix 1


This Appendix provides a basic inventory of Russia’s conventionalLong-Range Precision Strike capability.  Single-usenucleararmedmissiles, including Russia’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), are not included below, although dual-use variants are. All ranges are broad estimates.  Hypersonic variants are highlighted in italics.


Ballistic Missiles

  • Iskander-M – range 700km (INF Treaty non-compliant)

Cruise Missiles

  • Iskander-K (aka R-500) – range 2,000km (INF Treaty non-compliant)
  • 3K22 Tsirkon(Hypersonic) – range 1,000km (INF Treaty non-compliant)
  • 9M729 (aka SSC-8, aka 3K-55) – range 500km 
  • Oniks (land-variant) – range 450km


Ballistic Missiles

  • SS-N-23 Skiff/Sineva (dual use nuclear and conventional) – range 8,300km

Cruise Missiles

  • Kalibr – range 2,500km
  • Kh-101 (sea-variant) – range 4,500km
  • 3K22 Tsirkon(Hypersonic) – range 1,000km
  • Oniks (sea-variant) – range 450km 


Ballistic Missiles

  • Kh-47M2 Kinzhal(Hypersonic, dual use) – range 2,000km

Cruise Missiles

  • Kh-50 – range 2,000km
  • Kh-101 – range 4,500km
  • Kh-MT – range 1,000km
  • 3K22 Tsirkon(Hypersonic) – range 1,000km
  • Gzur(Hypersonic) – range 1,500km

Range of the Russian Iskander-K (R-500) ground-launched cruise missile (2,000km)

Appendix 2


This Appendix graphically illustrates the proposed ranges for British ground-launchedLong-Range Precision Strike missile systems.  Due to the flexible positioning of sea-and air-baseddelivery platforms, missiles launched from the sea or the air would have much greater overall range. 

The ranges depicted below represent 2,000km from the United Kingdom, Germany and Cyprus respectively.

Header image produced by author with mapping used from Graphic Education – https://graphiceducation.com.au/1287-thickbox_default/as-ogme01-europe-political-map.jpg


Chris is an intelligence officer in the British Army.  His views are his own and do not reflect those of the British Army or the Ministry of Defence.


  1. Cutting-edge technologies are rapidly altering the character of contemporary and future conflict.  These technologies include, inter alia, space-based weapon systems, the full array of offensive cyber capabilities, robotics and autonomous weapon systems, weaponised information and disinformation, newly developed chemical and biological agents, hypersonic missile systems, laser and radio frequency weapons, directed energy weapons and swarm capabilities.  For an overview of the impact of these technological developments on the evolving character of warfare see TRADOC Paper, ‘The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare’, 2018.
  2. A2AD can be defined as the ‘denial of a wide geographical area to enemy penetration through the layering of multiple military strike capabilities, including air defence, counter-maritime, electro-magnetic and long-range precision fires’.  Ballistic and cruise missiles form a central part of any modern A2AD capability.
  3. Link this to CGS’ speech at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference in Jun 2019, and specifically his use of the term ‘dominant irrelevance’.
  4. See also Bosbotinis, ‘Fire for Effect: Russia’s Growing Long-Range Strike Capabilities’, Wavell Room, Sep 2018.
  5. For example, see Maurer, ‘The Dual Track Approach: A Long Term Strategy for a Post-INF Treaty World’, War on the Rocks, Apr 2019.
  6. Missile Defence Project, ‘Missiles of Iran’, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jun 2018
  7. The time taken to deploy a British Division into theatre is measured in weeks, if not months, while the effect generated by a Long Range Precision Strike capability is measured in minutes, with the only time constraint being the need for target identification and tracking prior to launch.
  8. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty prohibits Russia and the United States from developing ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km, irrespective of warhead type (conventional or nuclear).
  9. Russian surface and sub-surface naval platforms can patrol globally, extending the range of sea-launched missile systems.
  10. Russian strategic bombers have an operational flight range of 9,000km, extending the range of air-launched missile systems.
  11. Copyright STRATFOR 2014.  www.stratfor.com

Related posts

Understanding Russia’s Foreign Policy Through International Arms Sales

Andy Wong

Survive: The Case for Armour

Giles Moon

AI-generated Images and the Future Operating Environment

Tracy MacSephney

Leave a Comment