On 11 January, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced the remobilisation of the 689th fighter aircraft regiment in Kaliningrad. The unit will be equipped with modern Su-35 and upgraded Su-27 fighter jets. Following the decision to deploy Iskander-M systems to the oblast, this is another demonstration of Russia’s strengthened military presence in the Baltic Sea basin, which is changing the balance of power in the region.
The Kaliningrad missile unit had the Complex Tochka-U (NATO: SS-21 Scarab) tactical operational missile, with a range of 120 km, and the Bastion-P mobile coastal-defence missile system (SS-C-5 Stooge), with a range of 450 km. In November 2017, it was announced the unit will receive an Iskander-M complex (SS-26 Stone), which will be deployed to the region in 2018. Iskanders are designed to strike land targets. Having launchers of this type in Kaliningrad increases the possibility to target neighbouring countries and potentially paralyse military operations on NATO’s Eastern Flank. There are two versions, Iskander-M, with a range of up to 500 km, and Iskander-K, which can also be used to launch, e.g., Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles (SS-N-27 Sizzler), with a range of 2,500 km. Operators trained on Iskander-M systems are able to easily use the second type of launchers.
Locating Iskander-M systems in Kaliningrad means missile coverage of a significant part of the territory of Poland, Lithuania, and the majority of Latvia, as well as Danish Bornholm. Another target of the Russian missiles may be elements of nearby military infrastructure, i.e., the missile defence base in Redzikowo, Poland. However, if Russia decides to deploy other types of missiles, such as the Kalibr, even though firing them from land launchers means breaking the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, their range covers almost all the territory of Europe, which would significantly change the balance of power on the continent because European NATO countries do not have this type of missiles. The answer to such a threat may be the acceleration of the development of missile systems between European allies and NATO members.
The re-mobilisation of the 689th regiment, consisting of three squadrons of about 36 planes, means a return to the state before the start of the “Serdyukov reform” of Russia’s military and demonstrates the increased combat capability of the Russian air force in the Baltic Sea basin. The 72nd aviation base currently stationed there had 24 aircraft in 2017, mainly Su-24 bombers (Fencer) and Su-27P fighters (Flanker-B). The 689th will receive modernised, fourth-generation Su-27 fighters and “4++”-generation Su-35 (Flanker-E) air-defence fighters. Their combat capabilities are comparable to the capabilities of NATO’s F-16, Rafale F3, and Eurofighter Typhoon. The regiment will be stationed at the modernised and expanded Chkalovsk military airport, located near the region’s capital.
The fighter regiment will be a challenge for the Polish air force and the aviation wing of NATO countries participating in the “Air Policing” mission over the territory of the Baltic countries. This may mean an increase in the number of violations of NATO countries’ airspace by Russian fighters, or at least flights very close to their borders, and thus the need not only to scramble at least two standby fighters more often but also to increase the number of air patrols. The greater presence of Russian aircraft may also have negative consequences on the safe operation of civil flights. The Russian fighters often are flown with their transponders switched off, which significantly hinders tracking their location and identification in the air, requiring civilian pilots to be on high alert.