Written by Dmitri Litovkin; Originally appeared at TASS, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Ministry of Defence says that by 2024 the ground group of the nuclear deterrence forces will not have any rockets produced in the USSR. This will ensure that the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) will be 100% equipped with modern weapons and equipment. If we take the date of January 2020 on the quantitative composition of our nuclear forces, it becomes clear that the country is switching to the “Stakhanov” method of rearmament. This is a minimum of 25 ballistic missiles per year.
Vladimir Putin once said that every fifth ruble spend on defence (until 2020, these costs will amount to 22 trillion rubles) goes to the development of the country’s nuclear missile shield. So you can calculate how much money is invested in the development of missile technologies. In addition to these funds, a separate programme was adopted to modernise enterprises engaged in creating strategic ballistic missiles.
Today we have only two such plants. The first one is Votkinsk Engineering. It produces the Yars strategic missile systems, the Bulava intercontinental missile and the Iskander tactical missile system. The second, Krasnoyarsk Engineering, produces marine ballistic missiles for submarines of Project 667BDRM Sineva/Liner, as well as the heavy Sarmat.
According to the Minister of Industry and Energy of Udmurtia Oleg Radionov, only in recent years, 1.7 billion rubles were invested in the reconstruction of the Votkinsk enterprise under two federal target programmes. And CEO Viktor Tolmachev added that by 2020 the plant will receive 9.6 billion rubles and will annually spend about 200 million rubles on upgrading its production facilities.
Former Governor of the Krasnoyarsk territory Viktor Tolokonsky in 216 reported that the total amount of investment in Kramash until 2020 will be more than 16 billion rubles.
According to the website Strategic Nuclear Weapons of Russia, at the beginning of 2020, the strategic missile forces were supposedly armed with 320 missile system (in 2017, there were approximately 286 of them – TASS) of five different types. These are monoblock missiles Topol, 45 units in Barnaul and Vypolzovo, R-36MUTTH Voevod (Satan), 46 in the villages of Dombarovsky and Uzhur, two UR-100 NUTTH with a hypersonic combat unit Avangard plus 229 of the most modern rockets of the Topol-M and Yars complexes of silo and mobile based in Teykovo, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Tagil, Yoshkar-Ola, Irkkutsk and Barnaul. In total, 1,181 deployed nuclear warheads (under the START III Treaty, we can have no more than 1,550 of them).
Of all this grouping, only Voyevod and Topol missiles can be considered “Soviet”. They were produced from 1985 to 1992. Currently, the strategic missile forces are armed with 91 of them, 46 Voyevods and 45 Topols. Now there is no complicated math: if they are completely eliminated by 2024, our industry should produce at least two dozen missiles a year. What kind? The answer, in general, is obvious: Yars, silo and mobile based, heavy Sarmat. The commander of the strategic missile forces, Colonel-General Sergei Karakaev, confirms this. In a recent interview with the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, he said that in the near future it is planned to gradually re-equip all missile connections with the new Yars, Avangard and Sarmat missile systems.
Of course, by Soviet standards, the task is not very difficult. From 1965 to 1970, more than 1,000 intercontinental missiles of four types were put on combat duty. As a result, there was a qualitative improvement in the strategic missile defence system, and the combat capabilities of the group of nuclear deterrence forces increased. However, two plants that we inherited from the USSR did not solve this task.
Quality determines quantity
Yars is the successor to the Topol-M rocket. Unlike its predecessor, it is much faster to start from the silo and even flies “incorrectly”. It is difficult to detect it with space-based missile defence systems and intercept it with conventional anti-missiles. Instead of the classic parabola, it “snakes”, changes the altitude and direction of the flight. Several dozen auxiliary engines are responsible for this, which make its flight less predictable. In contrast to the Topol, the Yars “drags” six warheads, which will be sent via “personal” addresses. Their capacity is more than 100 kt. Hiroshima and Nagasaki got less: the bombs dropped on them had only 20 kt of power.
On the SMF YouTube channel, they once showed how simulators of nuclear warheads enter the atmosphere: the glow of plasma, falling meteorite warheads, sheaves of sparks and, as you can guess, scorched hectares of land. Sarmat makes this “hell” meaningful.
If the 200-ton Voevod could deliver ten megaton-class nuclear warheads to the other hemisphere in one shot, the Sarmat is twice as light and, as former Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov says, “throws” the same number of warheads at 11 thousand km. The rocket is capable of withstanding a space-borne echelon strikes. And the improved energy characteristics make it possible to equip the missile with additional means of overcoming the American missile defence system. The missile can be launched from almost any area of the country, not only through the North Pole, as presently, but also through the South, which makes its flight non-interceptible for anti-missiles. The Americans have them today only in Poland, Romania and Alaska.
At the same time, it is not afraid of the first preventive strike of the enemy. If we “sleep through” an attack by American cruise missiles, strategic missiles, attack drones, or aircraft, the Sarmat will launch from the silo without hindrance. It can be assumed that, like the Voevod, it is protected against electromagnetic pulses. And the lid of its missile silo can withstand a direct hit from a nuclear warhead. Anyway, the task is still not effortless. The SMF positions are covered by their own missile defence system. And this is not only the well-known anti-aircraft missile system Triumph, Buk, Tor, Armour, but also means of electronic counteraction and, as it has now become known, laser weapons, Peresvet.
“Avangard” of defence
At the end of 2019, Sergei Shoigu said that the first Avangard hypersonic manoeuvring systems were on combat duty. The carriers of these warheads were ballistic missiles UR-100NUTTH, or, as they are called in the West, Stiletto. The rocket is not young. Its creation began in 1967 at the NGO Design Bureau of Mechanical Engineering under the leadership of Vladimir Chelomey. The engine is able to overcome the enemy’s missile defence system. The flight range is more than 10 thousand km, and the accuracy of hitting targets with combat blocks is about 350m. For the late 1970s, this figure was truly revolutionary.
In 2006, we bought from Kiev for $50 million of “gas” debts, 30 brand new stages for the RS-18, which were stored in a warehouse for about 20 years. The fact is that the rocket in the silo is kept in constant working order. Its tanks, control systems and cable networks wear out. The “dry” steps are as good as new. After a short technical inspection and refuelling, the engine is “ready for battle”. As of 2017, the SPM has 30 Stilettos in combat readiness.
According to the website Strategic Nuclear Weapons of Russia on January 4, 2020, in the village of Dombarovsky, there are two complexes with combat units of Avangard. We can assume that the rest of the missiles are currently undergoing modernisation and will soon also take their place in the combat system. In any case, at a meeting of the final board of the Ministry of Defence, Sergei Shoigu said that in 2020, the strategic missile forces will receive 22 launchers with Yars and Avangard missiles.
What are the rockets singing about
While communicating with an officer of one of the rocket regiments, I heard that during combat duty, he constantly “talks” with the rocket, and the rockets themselves “sing” in the concrete silos. Communication with the engine is the constant electronic monitoring of its technical condition. The “singing” is the sound of gyroscopes and other mechanisms that provide immediate start of the engine after receiving an order for combat use. Nevertheless, the image is quite clear. After the start of re-equipping the strategic missile forces with new Topol-M complexes, the modernisation of the nuclear forces control and management system also began.
The year 2020 is particularly significant for the strategic missile forces in this regard. According to the Ministry of Defence, all three armies and 11 missile divisions of the strategic missile forces have switched to digital telecommunications equipment. These are digital radio relay stations, automatic telephone stations for secret and open telephone communications, as well as local computer networks of the closed segment of the Ministry of Defence data transmission network.
This is as big a project as re-equipping for new missile systems. After all, thanks to the “number”, the already reliable communication system between the command post the headquarters of the units and the control channels for missile launches was increased. All of this ultimately makes our nuclear deterrent system more stable.
The thresholds of deterrence
Surprisingly, the modernisation of our nuclear triad, the SMF, Aerospace Forces and Navy, passed without much fuss. The Ministry of Defence regularly reported on the tests, the Defence Minister visited the factories, and in the end, we exchanged data with the Americans on compliance with the provisions of the START III Treaty. And here is the result – we have the most modern nuclear deterrent forces, not only in terms of production, but also in terms of technical potential.
But what about the Americans? Until recently, they just didn’t care. The treaty on the reduction of offensive weapons guaranteed compliance with the agreed thresholds for warheads and their rockets, while how they would be delivered to the target was secondary. Therefore, the United States has slowly upgraded the Minuteman and Trident ballistic missiles, maintaining their “airworthiness”. It was only with the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House that they seriously took care of their own nuclear security. The President-businessman decided to invest $1 trillion in this business. The money will be spent not only on the creation of new land, sea ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, and the development of hypersonic, but also on the development of new nuclear weapons. All of them will not appear before 2027.
Whatever it was, it was the modernisation of our nuclear forces that made the Americans look back. And perhaps in 2021, at the end of START III, Washington will again negotiate the terms of its world safety. All the more so since we will now have to reckon with completely new Russian arguments.