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Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces as its decisive defense

TASS highlights the Strategic Missile Force’s modern combat potential and its prospects

December 17 is celebrated as Strategic Missile Force Day in Russia. This commemorative date was set by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree of May 31, 2006. The country’s Strategic Missile Force was established in 1959 by a classified resolution of the USSR Cabinet of Ministers.

 As of the time of the USSR’s disintegration, the Strategic Missile Force comprised six armies and 28 divisions. Missiles on combat alert reached their largest number in 1985 (2,500 missiles, including 1,398 ICBMs). At the same time, the largest number of warheads on combat alert was registered in 1986 (10,300).

Interestingly, the Strategic Missile Force has never participated in any combat operations over all this time but its existence in Russia, along with the presence of the strategic sea- and air-based nuclear forces, has guaranteed its sovereignty, independence and the status of a great world power
Viktor Litovkin
TASS military expert

As the expert notes, even the world’s most powerful armies with their spending exceeding the defense budget of Russia by many times and the GDP of their countries by about 15 times have to reckon with Russia’s opinion and its position on the international scene.

“This is also because our country has five hundred strategic missiles carrying over 1,800 nuclear warheads, which will reach an aggressor in any place of the world, if necessary,” Litovkin stressed.

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force comprises three missile armies headquartered in Omsk, Orenburg and Vladimir. The armies consist of 12 high-readiness divisions, and also of missile practice ranges, arsenals, communications and training centers.

As Russia’s Strategic Missile Force Commander Colonel-General Sergei Karakayev told Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, the Force’s grouping currently comprises about 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles with warheads of various types and classes of their capacity. The troops concentrate over 60% of strategic weapons and warheads of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov said at a Defense Ministry board meeting in November 2017 that the share of modern armaments in the Strategic Missile Force had increased from 42% in 2012 to 66% and the potential to penetrate a missile shield had grown by 30%.

The Strategic Missile Force has received over 80 ICBMs. Work is currently underway to develop perspective complexes, including with a heavy ICBM. Their technical characteristics will make it possible to use more effective missile armament and means of breaking through missile defense
Valery Gerasimov
Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Army General

Voyevoda and Sarmat ICBMs

SS-18 Satan ballistic missile AP Photo/Str
SS-18 Satan ballistic missile
© AP Photo/Str

The R-36M2 Voyevoda (NATO reporting name: SS-18 Satan) is the heaviest ICBM. This silo-based liquid-propellant missile weighs 210 tonnes and can carry ten multiple independently targeted nuclear warheads capable of breaking through any ABM system.

The Voyevoda ICBM has a flight range of 11,000 km and each of its warheads has a yield of 800 kilotonnes. Russia has about 46 such missiles. The Voyevoda ICBM was developed by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau (Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) and accepted for service in 1988. It will stay on combat alert at least until 2024 when it will be replaced by a new strategic missile called the Sarmat. It is twice as light but can carry considerably more independently targeted nuclear warheads (up to 15, according to public data). The missile will have a payload of 10 tonnes compared to its predecessor’s 8.75 tonnes. Moreover, the Sarmat’s warheads will fly at a hypersonic speed and will be capable of changing the flight path’s altitude and direction and following the terrain. No ABM defense, either present-day or future, will be able to counter these missiles.

This is the weapon capable of overcoming both present-day and future US missile defense. We will break through this shield. As of today, it poses no serious military threat to us other than a provocation
Dmitry Rogozin
Vice-Premier of Russia

According to Russia’s Strategic Missile Force’s Commander Colonel-General Sergei Karakayev, the Voyevoda’s reliability parameters remain stable after 28 years of its operation.

The Sarmat new ballistic missile prototype was ready back in the autumn of 2015 but its pop-up tests have not started yet.

The first test is expected to begin until the end of 2017. As Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said, this missile will be so powerful that it will be able to fly towards its targets both through the North and South Poles and will therefore have a practically global firing range.

Yars and Rubezh missiles

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force still operates the UT-100NUTTKh silo-based two-stage liquid-propellant missile nicknamed ‘the one hundred missile (NATO reporting name: SS-19 Stiletto). 

The missile was developed by the Design Bureau of Machine-Building (the town of Reutov, the Moscow Region) and accepted for service in 1979. It weighs 105.6 tonnes and carries six multiple independently targeted warheads with a yield of 750 kilotonnes each. Russia still operates 30 such missiles. In their silo-based combat positions, they are being replaced by Yars solid-propellant missile systems which, as public sources suggest, carry three warheads with a yield of 150-300 kilotonnes each and capable of flying at a hypersonic speed.

RS-24 Yars mobile intercontinental missiles Vladimir Smirnov/TASS
RS-24 Yars mobile intercontinental missiles
© Vladimir Smirnov/TASS
The system incorporates options of the anti-missile trajectory maneuver to dodge space-based ABM interceptors. Of course, this complex and its upgraded versions, considering the development of missile defense systems, will boost the combat capabilities of the Strategic Missile Force’s strike grouping for breaking through the ABM defense and strengthen the nuclear deterrence potential of the Russian strategic nuclear forces
Sergei Karakayev
Strategic Missile Force commander, colonel-general

The Yars has greater potential for using the position area compared to Topol ICBMs, which it will also replace. As the Strategic Missile Force commander said, the Yars missile’s design features allow its launches from the sites, on which Topol ICBMs could be placed on combat alert only after additionally equipping the ground. The system’s communications means and basic chassis have also been improved while the missile itself has become more powerful and actually invulnerable to an enemy’s existing anti-ballistic missile defense.

The silo-based solid-propellant Yars missiles (RS-24) developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology are already on combat alert in the Vladimir missile division, in particular, in missile regiments in Kozelsk. The units of the Strategic Missile Force’s mobile grouping are also being rearmed with Yars systems featuring standardized missiles. Specifically, 23 Yars systems arrived for the Strategic Missile Force’s regiments in Teikovo, Nizhny Tagil and Novosibirsk in 2016. The Strategic Missile Force will get 20 launchers of this system in 2018. Overall, all missile divisions operating mobile missile complexes will be rearmed with Yars ICBMs through 2026.

A total of 12 regiments have been rearmed with Yars ICBMs over five years. By now, the rearmament of the Teikovo, Nizhny Tagil and Novosibirsk missile large units has been completed.

According to the Strategic Missile Force commander, “the mobile Yars is rapidly replacing Topol complexes that have served their term in the Yoshkar-Ola and Irkutsk missile divisions.”

Apart from solid-propellant RS-24s, the Strategic Missile Force operates mono-block Topol and Topol-M missile systems (SS-25 and SS-27) also developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology. They were accepted for service in 1988 and will stay on combat alert through 2022.

There is no secret to the system’s reliability: thorough fine-tuning at the design and development stage, strict control of each element’s production at the stage of industrial mass manufacturing and daily consistent efforts to organize its operation in troops
Sergei Karakayev
Strategic Missile Force commander, colonel-general

Russia currently operates about 40 Topol ICBMs. They are gradually giving place to Yars missiles but instead of being disposed, they are used to test new combat armament for future missiles.

Topol-M missiles have been on combat alert since 1997. They are operational in both silo-based and mobile versions. According to public data, Russia operates about 80 such missile systems. But the production of Topol-M ICBMs has also come to a halt as they are being replaced by Yars missile systems.

The RS-26 Rubezh missile system has also been derived from the RS-24. It is expected to be lighter than the Yars and feature improved armament and multiple warheads to break through anti-ballistic missile defense. These missiles will be launched only from mobile platforms as no silo-based version was envisaged for them.

 In experts’ estimates, the Rubezh has a maximum flight range of 12,000 km but it will be possible to launch these missiles against targets at a distance of around 2,000-6,000 km (which, as the United States claims, violates the INF Treaty). The RS-26’s final test launch was conducted on March 18, 2016 and was recognized as successful. At the end of that year, the missile system was accepted for service.

Russia excludes rail-mobile ICBM system from armament plan

It was reported in early December that the work on the Barguzin rail-mobile ballistic missile system had been excluded from Russia’s new state armament plan for 2018-2027 due to a lack of financing. Instead, Russia has decided to focus on developing Sarmat and Rubezh intercontinental ballistic missiles.

 As a source told TASS, the Barguzin project had been put on hold since the autumn of last year and the pop-up tests of the Yars missile from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in north Russia were the last work carried out under this program.

Barguzin rail-mobile ballistic missile system Alexander Babenko/TASS
Barguzin rail-mobile ballistic missile system
© Alexander Babenko/TASS

Another source in the defense industry told TASS in May 2016 that the design documentation for the Barguzin project was ready and work had started to create the system’s individual elements. It was planned at that time that a new 13th missile division comprising five regiments armed with Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM complexes would become operational in Russia’s Strategic Missile Force in the early 2020s.

The development of the Barguzin rail-mobile ballistic missile complex began in 2013 on instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Each complex was expected to comprise six launchers of Yars solid-propellant missiles each containing four independently targetable warheads. The Yars ICBM weighs 50 tonnes and with its length of 22.5 meters it easily fits into a 24-meter rail car designed to carry 60 tonnes of cargoes. One such train was equaled to a regiment and a total of five such regiments consolidated into a division were planned to be operational.

As the TASS military expert stresses, Russia is making and will be making all the changes in the structure of its Strategic Missile Force within the framework of the New START Treaty signed with the United States in Prague in 2010.

The Treaty stipulates the reduction in the number of deployed strategic carriers to 700 on each side (plus 100 stockpiled carriers) and the number of nuclear warheads they carry to 1,550. Russia is strictly fulfilling its commitments. The Strategic Missile Force, together with the strategic nuclear power of the Navy and the Aerospace Force acting as a deterrent to any potential aggressor, stand on constant alert like permanent sentries and reliably protect Russia’s security and national interests
Viktor Litovkin
TASS military expert

The funds allocated under the rearmament program through 2020 help maintain the pace of troops’ rearmament. Finally, as the Strategic Missile Force commander said, the troops will have a balanced structure and operate the optimal number of missiles designed to solve diverse tasks. According to him, nuclear weapons remain “a guarantor of ensuring the security of Russia and its allies, and also the independence of its foreign and domestic policy.”


Roman Azanov