Russia Defense Report: Sarmat Heavy ICBM

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While this weapon system is still currently “under the radar” (no pun intended…) of the Western media, one can rest assured that once it starts flight tests in earnest, it will be paraded as Exhibit A in the propaganda indictment of “Russian aggression.” Therefore it might be worthwhile to pre-empt the usual media barrage by placing a spotlight on what promises to be a revolutionary weapon system capable of changing the global balance of power.

The Sarmat missile is classified as a so-called “heavy” ICBM. In accordance with START treaties, that designation is applied to weapons with intercontinental range and launch weight in excess of 100 metric tons. It is not the first such weapon to earn this designation–the earlier R-36-series Voyevoda ICBM, dubbed by NATO as the SS-18 Satan (!), also belonged to that category and likewise was the target of a focused propaganda campaign–why else would it be assigned a code name like that? USSR was not the only country to deploy such weapons. US strategic forces used Titan ICBMs for several decades.

The controversy associated with heavy ICBMs naturally begs the question: why bother with such weapons? What missions are they intended to accomplish? In the Russian case, at any rate, heavy ICBMs play a specific role. They are the spear-tip of strategic nuclear deterrence. Their ability to destroy heavily defended or protected targets, including by anti-ballistic missile systems, guarantees the rest of the deterrent force remains viable. Although the R-36 spent most of its service life under the ABM Treaty regime, one has to keep in mind that it was designed with the assumption the US would have widely deployed ABM systems, and moreover Soviet heavy ICBMs were part of the reason the US realized, in the early 1970s, that the Soviet missile capabilities were sufficient to render any US defensive system irrelevant. A single R-36 represented, after all, a 10-warhead rapid-fire volley that no ABM system at the time could hope to counter. It’s the realization that ABM systems would be costly, destabilizing, and, in the end, useless, that gave us the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” in its mature form.

The Sarmat is the child of the post-ABM Treaty era, from which the US withdrew during the first term of the George W. Bush administration whose main priority, before it was sidelined by the 9/11 terror attacks, was a military build-up in space, to the point of making “the final frontier” a US military preserve. Sarmat’s function is as much political as it is military, as it is intended to send the message that, in the final account, the US is better off sitting down behind negotiating table in order to create a new multilateral framework of collective security than pursuing impossible dreams of unilateral “full spectrum dominance.”

Since the US missile defense technologies have evolved over the last several decades, the Sarmat will likewise represent a major advancement over the Voyevoda. Instead of simply presenting the ABM system with a rapid succession of targets with the goal of saturating the defenses, the Sarmat is more subtle. Its approach to the task of invalidating opposing missile defenses consists of a combination of factors. They include the ability employ multiple trajectories, not only the standard route over the North Pole, to the North American continent, thanks to the missile’s powerful engines and ample fuel load which account for the bulk of the missile’s estimated 170 tons. It can also employ suborbital trajectories which greatly reduce flight, and therefore also reaction, time. Its 10-ton payload will include hypersonic aerodynamic vehicles which are considerably harder to intercept, in addition to standard warheads and, naturally, decoys. Last but not least, in order to ensure its survivability, its launch preparation time will be only 1 minute, greatly reducing the likelihood of it being caught on the ground by an enemy first strike.

The Sarmat is a high-priority weapons system whose timetable has not suffered significant delays. Its initial testing is scheduled to begin later in 2016, with service entry scheduled by not later than the end of 2018, and with all the R-36M missiles still in service being replaced by 2020. The initial “free world” reaction will likely be the usual barrage of propaganda which inevitably follows every Russian international initiative, though, as in the 1970s, it will be followed by a more constructive Western response that will help restore a sense of global security and stability.

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  • Freedom

    Here we go again …

  • paul

    Southfront has more confidence in the sanity of western politicians than I do.
    Why think that the era of lunatic leaders has ended? History keeps
    throwing up politicians who lead the world to death and destruction.
    Wars have become more costly in terms of slaughter, so as time passes
    the bar is constantly raised. In the minds of western politician
    winning a war only means the survival of the system. The deaths of
    millions or hundreds of millions only adds to their self image of
    greatness. Western politicians are never so tall as when they climb atop
    a mountain of corpses of slain men.

    I think you underestimate the innate and intrinsic evil of western
    politicians, and Russia may yet again only learn this lesson once the
    troops cross the border.

  • NobodysaysBOO

    The USA did “star wars” but wait it was ONLY CARTOONS the real thing went no place.
    This thing IS the REAL DEAL and will most likely operate as designed.

    Bush did it again, hang the bastard BUSH.

  • George_Costanza

    So let me get this straight:
    First is it communism, then that ends-so where is the peace dividend?, oh that is right now the specter of ‘terrorism’. And when that runs out of steam comes the ‘threat’ of asteroids/meteors/comets. And then finally ET-aliens.
    Haven’t heard about MASERs for actual missile defense in decades. Hit-to-kill is nonsense.

    Frankly, it is time to bring out the TR-3B

  • Vido Dasler

    Nice to see that our US allies will not be forgotten and will receive some real big warheads. We here in Europe will have to do with some small and medium range rockets. Lucky you.

  • gmatch

    The US is a threat to humanity, peace and prosperity. The American population is fully esponsible for the US war crimes, it is a cheering crowd of brainless, hamburger munching creatures.

    • Cannibal-ante-portas

      To their defence, they have one option of choosing one of two, equally bad parties to govern (or to be appearing to govern). Which ever one they elect does the same as the previous Government, no one can be held accountable because of this two-party democracy.

  • chris chuba

    I know that this paper is from 2006 but I still think that it is important. It is from the Council on Foreign Relations discussing the consequences of the U.S. having nuclear supremacy
    https://www.dartmouth.edu/~dpress/docs/Press_US_Nuclear_Primacy_CS.pdf

    They claimed this was true at that time because while Russia had a large number of nuclear weapons, they were not able to keep their nuclear submarines on missions and their air bases and ICBM silos were in well known locations and vulnerable to attack. Whether nuclear supremacy is real or a myth is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is if the Pentagon and the sitting President believes it is possible. Such power is like Catnip.

    In any case, the Russian nuclear arsenal was clearly in a very bad state and they need their own modernization in order to preserve deterrence.

  • Lord Humongous

    Politics is the only profession that never evolves. It is as its always been, and will always be as it is.