The Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau just recently published the first image of the newest heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-28 Sarmat (also known under NATO’s reporting name SS-X-30). It is to replace its predecessor, the R36M2 Voyevoda (or NATO reporting name – the SS-18 Satan). According to a TASS source, the SS-X-30 is to be authorized for service at the end of 2018.
The SS-X-30 is to undergo pop-up tests by the end of 2016. Its flight testing is due no earlier than the end of the first quarter of 2017.
The missile’s parameters remain a state secret, so its features can be discussed only on the basis of open sources and the opinions of military specialists.
This story by TASS is about one of the greatest surprises from Russia’s defense-industrial complex that largely remains secret for the time being.
Satan’s worthy successor
The SS-X-30 is a heavy inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau. According to some estimates, the missile will have a liftoff mass of 100 tonnes, including a ten-tonne payload. It is to replace the world’s most powerful strategic missile, the Voyevoda (211 tonnes, including a payload of 8.8 tonnes). Its NATO reporting name is the SS-18 Satan.
After the Soviet Union’s breakup, the plant in Dnepropetrovsk halted the production of SS-18s. Under START-1 terms, Russia scrapped 154 missiles. Those still on duty were to be withdrawn from operation after the expiration of their life cycles.
According to open sources, 46 silo-launched missiles of that class remain on duty. The SS-X-30 missiles are to take their place, for which the silos will have to be upgraded.
Invisible to missile defense
In contrast to its predecessor (the SS-18) the SS-X-30 will boast far smaller liftoff mass and a greater range of flight.
Each SS-X-30 will carry not 10 nuclear warheads, but no fewer than 15, located in the missile’s forwardmost section. These independently targetable 150-300-kilotonne re-entry vehicles, arranged in a grape cluster-like fashion, will be able to separate from the cluster one by one when the pre-loaded program issues the order to attack the selected target.
Mass media have already mentioned the hypersonic re-entry vehicles’ name - Yu-71. Their accuracy is reportedly a hundred times greater than that of the SS-18 warheads.
Whereas each of the SS-18’s MIRVs had a yield of 750 kilotonnes and the circular error probable (CEP) was not very important, because the explosion would raze everything to the ground within a range of dozens of kilometers, the SS-X-30’s high accuracy warheads boast a far better CEP, so the predecessor’s heavy yield will be no longer necessary.
Litovkin believes that a 150-300 kilotonne blast will be enough to cope with any task. The lower the yield and mass of each MIRV, then the more of these that can be loaded into the missile’s front section.
Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force, Colonel-General Sergey Karakayev, says “the contribution of the stationary group of heavy ICBMs (SS-18 or SS-X-30) in contrast to that of a stationary group of light ICBMs (Topol-M or Yars) will be four times greater by all parameters that are used to gauge the likely combat effectiveness of the Strategic Missile Force.”
How many SS-X-30 missiles will go operational in Russia is unknown, but as Litovkin says, it is easy to guess.
Each SS-X-30 is to carry 15 warheads. According to open sources, Russia at the moment has 521 operational delivery vehicles and 1,735 warheads (and the United States, 741 and 1,481 accordingly).
START-3 may be prolonged after its expiration in 2021 by mutual agreement for another five years. If that happens, says Litovkin, Russia will have fewer SS-X-30s than SS-18s. Alongside the SS-X-30s, Russia has at its disposal other delivery vehicles (both ground- and sea-launched) and strategic bombers. All are on the START-3 list.
What function is the SS-X-30 expected to perform?
TASS military analyst Viktor Litovkin believes the SS-X-30, just as the Strategic Missile Force, is crucial to deterring a likely aggressor and also to replacing the SS-18, which by the time START-3 expires, will have come to the end of the its guaranteed life cycle.
On the other hand, says Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin, Chief Research Fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) the solid propellant mobile strategic missiles Topol-M, Yars and Rubezh and, in the longer term, the strategic missile carrying trains Barguzin would be quite enough for deterrence.
The former chief of the Strategic Missile Force Staff, and current adviser to the missile force commander, Viktor Yesin, agrees with Dvorkin, but only partially.