Russian Nuclear Weapons
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a March 2018 address to the Russian Federal Assembly, announced the existence of five key Russian nuclear weapons programs.
These new systems, dubbed Putin’s superoruzhie (‘Putin’s super weapons,’) signaled Russia’s resolve to develop inventive answers to future military threats, most especially those posed by the United States.
Four of these Russian nuclear weapons can be classified as strategic in the sense that they are all long-range weapons (with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers). However, the fifth, which is called ‘Kinzhal,’ is a sub-strategic system (with a range of less than 5,000 kilometers).
This article gives a brief overview of each of the system.
1- RS-28 Sarmat
The RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a super-heavy, liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, that has been undergoing consistent development by Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau since 2009.
The RS-28 Sarmat was developed to replace the Soviet-era RS-36M Voevoda (SS-18 ‘Satan’) in the Russian Federation’s Strategic Missile Forces’ Uzhurskaya and Dombarovskaya divisions (RVSN). In 2020, successful launch tests were reportedly carried out, and by February 2021, preparations for flight testing at the Severo-Yenisei test site were well underway.
According to Colonel-General Sergey Karakaev, commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, the missile is expected to enter service in 2022 with the 62nd Missile Division headquartered in Uzhur (Krasnoyarsk region), where new facilities to store the missile are being built.
The Sarmat is expected to fulfill nearly identical roles to the RS-36M it will replace. It is also said to be substantially bigger than all existing Russian ICBMs like the RS-24 Yars (SS-29) and those of their American counterparts.
According to analysts, the Sermat should be capable of carrying a variety of payloads, including a combination of re-entry vehicles and decoys to get beyond ballistic missile defenses.
The most noticeable distinctions between the Sarmat and its predecessors are its claimed long range (up to 18,000 km) and ability to attack targets via a fractional orbit, raising the prospect of it approaching the US via the South Pole, bypassing existing missile detection and defense systems.
The Avangard missile system blends old and new: That is; the old in the form of a Soviet-era RS18A (SS-19 ‘Stiletto’) ICBM, and the new in the form of the Yu-71 HGV. The Avangard system reportedly emerged when the Soviet-era Albatross research effort to construct an HGV was reactivated following the United States’ withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002.
Following a series of unsuccessful tests in the 2010s, many successful tests were carried out over the period of 2015–16. The most recent test occurred in December 2018, following President Putin’s announcement of “super weapons” in March of that year.
The Avangard has a range of nearly 6,000 kilometers, weighs around 2,000 kilograms, and can transport nuclear or conventional payloads. According to a TASS report, the HGV’s nuclear warhead has a TNT equivalent of “more than 2 megatons.”
Missile Threats, an authoritative and up-to-date open source information and analysis about ballistic and cruise missiles around the globe, revealed in one of its publications that a ballistic missile carries the Avangard to its apogee as a boost-glide weapon. The SS-19 “Stiletto” (UR-100NUTTH) is the present carrier, but the R-28 “Sarmat” will eventually replace it. After the RS-26 “Rubezh” (SS-X-31) was delayed owing to financial restrictions, Russia chose to install the Avangard on the silo-based R-28 “Sarmat.”
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The glide vehicle releases from its rocket after reaching a suborbital apogee of roughly 100 kilometers. It then descends through the atmosphere towards its target. Vladimir Putin claimed in a speech in March 2018 that the HGV can maintain atmospheric speeds of up to Mach 20 (6.28 km/s) and maneuver. Avangard’s agility could make its trajectory unpredictable, making intercept attempts more difficult following its boost phase.
3- Russian Poseidon Torpedo
The existence of the Poseidon nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was first revealed to the public in November 2015, when photos of program schematics taken during a Ministry of Defence meeting were made public. It was described as a huge, autonomous (i.e. crewless) and fast (i.e. with a reported speed of roughly 70 knots) nuclear-tipped torpedo when it was first known as the ‘Oceanic Multipurpose System Status-6’ – or simply as ‘Status-6’.
After a popular vote in 2018 renamed the system the Poseidon, Putin and other defense officials gradually divulged more information about the system and its intended mission.
The Poseidon, according to Putin, is a versatile UUV that ‘can carry either conventional or nuclear weapons, allowing them to hit a variety of targets, such as aircraft [carrier] groups, coastal defences, and infrastructure.’ It’s also fuelled by a tiny nuclear reactor, allowing it to go indefinitely (in practical terms). The Poseidon is also said to be capable of diving to depths of up to one kilometer, making it safe from existing manned submarines.
The 9M730 Burevestnik (Thunderbird) is a new Russian missile under development with a nuclear propulsion system. Only limited information about this missile is known because it is cloaked in secret.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has produced several visualizations and even photographs of the missile, but these only show one possible configuration. This missile’s appearance has yet to be determined. The new missile, which has a nuclear power unit, was initially disclosed in 2018. SSC-X-9 Skyfall is its Western reporting name. According to US intelligence, a number of flight tests were conducted between 2017 and 2019, but all of them failed.
One of these nuclear-powered missiles ended up in the White Sea in 2019 following another botched launch test. The missile exploded during the recovery attempt, killing at least 7 specialists and producing a radioactive spill. The background radiation levels were 4 to 16 times higher than usual. According to Russian reports, this missile could be operational by 2025.
5- Kinzhal Missile
The 9-S-7760 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) was said to be the
only sub-strategic system unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018.
It is said to be a modified version of the 9M723 Iskander ground-launched ballistic missile carried from the MiG-31K missile carrier, which is also a modified version of the MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor.
The MiG-31K is used to launch the missile at a high (supersonic) speed, increasing the Kinzhal’s speed. As a result, the Kinzhal, like the Iskander, takes an aero-ballistic flight path. The Kinzhal, according to Putin, reaches a top speed of Mach 10 and is capable of maneuvering through all phases of its flight path. It is said to have a range of roughly 2,000 kilometers when launched from the MiG-31K.
The Kinzhal is also expected to be launched from the supersonic Tu-22M3M Backfire bomber, now in development, as well as the Su-57 Felon fifth-generation fighter aircraft in the future.