In the late 1990s the Kolomna KB, which was in a difficult financial position, followed up its earlier work to develop a new tactical system, which it called the Iskander-E. This name suggested that it was first intended for export (the letter E stands for export), primarily to the Middle East. "Iskander" is the name used in Arab countries to describe Alexander the Great. That name is to symbolize to system buyers its invulnerability and high combat efficiency.
The Iskander-E (SS-26 Stone) is a tactical surface-to-surface missile complex designed to deliver high-precision strikes at a variety of ground targets at a range of up to 280 km (170 miles). It carries a single warhead with a payload of 400 kg to comply with the limits laid down by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The Iskander-E has a launch weight of 3,800 kg and is deployed on a transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicle that carries two missiles. The missiles incorporate 'stealth' technology and feature variable flight trajectory. They can reportedly be launched within a minute of each other and have a circular-error probable (CEP) of 30 meters. An Iskander battery comprises TELs, loaders, and a command vehicle. Target acquisition is supported by a mobile data-processing center.
The system is intended to use conventional warheads for engagement of pinpoint and area targets, such as:
hostile fire weapons (missile systems, multiple launch rocket systems, long-range artillery pieces);
air and antimissile defense weapons;
fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft at airfields;
command posts and communications nodes;
critical civilian infrastructure facilities;
other vital pinpoint and area targets.
The missile system ensures:
high probability of fire mission accomplishment in hostile active countermeasures environments;
high probability of failure-proof functioning of the missile during its launch preparation and in flight;
automatic computation and input of missile flight missions by the launcher devices;
high tactical maneuverability and strategic mobility owing to transportability of the system vehicles by all types of transport;
automation of battle management of missile units and their information support;
long service life and ease of operation.
The Iskander-E system is equipped with a solid-propellant single-stage guided missile controlled throughout the entire flight path and provided with a non-separable warhead.
Russia may deliver an export version of the Iskander system (Iskander-E) to Belarus as a response to U.S. missile shield plans in Central Europe. "Any action triggers a counteraction, the same is true for the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland," Colonel General Zaritsky said on 14 November 2007. Russia and Belarus, which maintained close political and economic ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991, had been in talks for several years on the delivery of Iskander-E complexes to equip at least one Belarus missile brigade by 2015. With its maximum range of 280 km (about 180 miles), Iskander-E's range is likely to cover U.S. missile defense facilities in Poland, which borders on Belarus.
State arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on 01 October 2008 that several countries had shown an interest in purchasing Russia's advanced Iskander-E short-range ballistic missile systems. "Syria, the UAE, Malaysia, India and some other countries have shown an interest in the missile system," said Rosoboronexport official Nikolai Dimidyuk. Russia will also seek to export the Iskander-E to Algeria, Kuwait, Singapore, Vietnam, and South Korea, he added.
According to Russian military experts, the Iskander-E missile complex will serve as "determent weapon" in local conflicts and as strategic arms for the countries with limited territory. Its great range of shooting making it possible to use it from the depth of one's own positions, and the brief time it can stay in its launch position make the complex virtually invulnerable to ordinary weapons.
The United States has tried to reconsider the Missile Technology Control Regime and here arises the question whether this may be an obstacle for the sale of the new missile abroad. Such missile systems as Iskander have a special place in the world weapons market. Even a small amount of such missiles drastically changes the balance of force in conflicts.