On March 1, 2018, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin made his most important speech probably since the time of the 2007 Muenchen Conference. If 11 years ago he declared that Russia would not allow disrupting the strategic balance and losing great power status, in 2018 it was proven this has not happened and would not happen in the foreseeable future.
During his speech, Russia’s president introduced 6 high-tech weapons systems which were developed in order to preserve strategic parity that was being undermined by the US and NATO.
The core of the matter lies in the fact that, when Russia was weak, in 2002 the US unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty and then, pursuing the aim of neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent, she began two large-scale programs.
The first was the global ABM system surrounding Russia and China. Land ABM bases were deployed in California, Alaska, Romania, and Poland, with over 100 GBI and Standard SM-3 missiles. Additional such facilities are planned for Japan, South Korea, and Qatar.
UN currently has the ability to intercept Russia’s ICBM warheads only during their terminal trajectories. However, the more modern SM3 Block II A and IB theoretically can accomplish boost-phase intercepts, before warhead separation. The US is also deploying a naval ABM component which at the moment includes 30 destroyers and 5 cruisers deployed in direct proximity to Russia.
in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in the Sea of Japan, in the Pacific and Atlantic. These ships also carry SM3 missiles, no fewer than 150 of them. These launchers are dual-use, as they man launch not only SM3 but also Tomahawk SLCMs which are nuclear-capable.
The US also started pursuing the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) program, which seeks the ability to launch precision non-nuclear strike against any target on the planet within 1 hour. PGS entailed the development of several hypersonic delivery vehicle types, including cruise missiles and gliding warheads. Since these measures undermined the foundations of deterrence, namely Mutually Assured Destruction, Russia was forced to respond. It launched several weapons programs in order to nullify US and NATO superiority in that area.
On March 1, 2018. V. Putin presented the 5-th generation silo-based RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, a multi-stage liquid-fuel missile that will soon replace the Soviet-era R-36M2 Voyevoda (SS-18). While most of the missile’s characteristics are classified, it is known the 200-ton missile has a short active flight stage to make ABM intercept more difficult. The missile can reach the altitude of 100km and achieve speed of Mach 7-10. While Voyevoda’s range stood at 11,000 km, Sarmat extends it to over 16-18 thousand, making possible strikes from different directions, including from over the Atlantic, Pacific, and also North and South Poles. It would force the target country to deploy a perimeter ABM defense around its borders that would be both very expensive and physically difficult. Experts believe two versions of the missile will be deployed, with different fuel loads to strike targets in the US and Western Europe.
The launch weight of the missile targeted at the US would be between 150 and 200 tons, its range—16-18 thousand km, with throw-weight of 5 tons. Sarmat targeted against Europe would have a range of 9-10 thousand km, launch weight of 100-120km, and throw-weight of 10 tons.
When it comes to the warhead bus, as it enters the atmosphere it will carry out anti-ABM evasive maneuvers, and may carry 10-15 warheads of varying yields. If the payload consists of 10 warheads, their yield will be 750kt apiece, but if the Avangard hypersonic maneuvering warheads are employed, the Sarmat will carry 3-5 of them at the weight of 1 ton each.
Much of the missile’s weight consists of traditional anti-ABM measures, such as decoys, or inflatable warhead imitators; spiral, corner, and dipole reflectors; and also rockets which imitate the trajectory and heat signature of warheads. Avangard warheads can also be used with conventional payloads, allowing the ICBM to strike naval squadrons from extreme distances. It’s unlikely the Sarmat would be used like that since any ICBM launch would be considered as a nuclear strike and could provoke a retaliatory strike.
Sarmat and Voyevoda have identical dimensions in order to allow to use the launch silos of the Voyevodas that will reach their service limits in 2021-2023. Sarmat is in its final launch tests. It is expected to enter service in 2018-2020, and will begin combat alert in 2020-2021. Therefore the production of new missiles will take place concurrently with the reduction in the numbers of old ones, allowing the SRF to modernize its force without reducing its strength. According to MOD representatives, all the practical, technological, and industrial problems have been resolved, so that factory capacity necessary to fulfill future orders already exists.
Even though dry launch tests were successfully completed in 2017, they will be continued in the near future to increase the system’s reliability. There are plans to use Sarmat missiles that have exhausted their service lives to launch satellites in order to increase the cost-effectiveness of this system.
Burevestnik [Storm Petrel]—a cruise missile with a nuclear powerplant
Another weapon introduced by Russia’s president was a nuclear-powered cruise missile which, following a poll on MOD website, received the name Burevestnik. According to information presented, Russian scientists were able to create a compact nuclear power source and squeeze it into the confines of a cruise missile like the Kh-101. It cannot go supersonic, but has range an order of magnitude greater than any other weapons, which is practically unlimited. The missile can furthermore operate at ultra-low altitudes, is stealthy and highly maneuverable. It makes it quite invulnerable to existing and future anti-air and anti-missile systems. The missile underwent tests in 2017, passed them, and its power source reached the required power which ensures the necessary thrust.
According to V. Putin, it permits the development of an entirely new class of offensive weapons capable of striking targets anywhere on the planet while remaining invulnerable to defensive systems. These missiles may be carried by strategic bombers and submarines, and may be equipped with conventional or nuclear warheads.
It is believed the missile is powered by a nuclear ramjet motor, which were being developed since the 1960s, in part to propel future aircraft, but the development was curtailed due to low reliability and high risk of contamination. It’s apparent that if Russian engineers managed to overcome the pollution problem, in the future they may be used on long-range strike drones which Russian Aerospace Forces currently lack.
Poseidon (Status-6) unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV)
Russia’s president stated the country developed UUVs with a unique combination of speed, maneuverability, and range. He likely was referring to a UUV known as Status-6 but which, after a poll on MOD site, was dubbed Poseidon. That Russia has been working on such weapons has been known for a long time, including thanks to a specially prepared “leak” to the media in 2015. According to the CIA, it was a way of publicly warning the US about a likely response to ABM deployment.
The basic characteristics of this system are as follows: diameter 1.6m, length 24m, weight about 40 tons, range 10,000km, maximum speed 100-186km/h, depth of operation up to 1km. The UUV follows in the footsteps of the T-15 torpedo developed in the 1940s-1950s to deliver thermonuclear warheads to US shores in the absence of reliable missile carriers. Unlike the T-15, Poseidon is a multirole submersible system, capable of engaging a wide range of targets such as carrier battle groups, naval bases, and coast infrastructure. One of its main missions would be the delivery of a nuclear munition to enemy shores to strike important commercial targets and to inflict unacceptable costs to the enemy by creating large radioactive fallout zones, tsunamis, and other nuclear explosion effects. The UUV can also carry torpedoes, missiles, and mines to attack various surface, land, and underwater targets. It could launch missiles using a so-called Multiple All Up Round Canister, MAC.
According to its designers, the UUV ought to unload a capsule with a cluster of cruise missiles and quickly depart to avoid falling victim to return fire. The capsule can be set up on the sea bottom and remain there for a long time, until activation. There are reports this technology was used as part of the Skif project on submarine Sarov. The UUVs would be controlled from special “command vessels” using the standard means of communicating with underwater vehicles, the ZEUS transmitter. The UUV would likely have a sonar for orientation purposes, a modern navigation system, and other high-tech equipment depending on the mission. utin stated that the multi-year test cycle for the nuclear power unit was finished in December 2017.
This unit has very small dimensions and an extremely high power density. It is a hundred times smaller than a submarine reactor, has greater power, and it is able to reach full power 200 times faster. Experts believe the UUV may be equipped with a nuclear reactor using the AMB-8 liquid metal heat carrier, with a power of 8-10 MW to ensure its unique speed and range. Though its top speed would likely be used only rarely. To ensure acoustic camouflage and make it appear to be a cargo vessel, its cruising speed would be 35-50 km/h with a detection range of 2-3km, and its top speed of over 180 km/h would be used only to evade attack or to deliver a nuclear munition. In any event, the UUV is invulnerable to contemporary underwater weapons. The fastest (and likely best) USN torpedo, the Mark 54 with a speed of 74km/h still can’t catch up to Poseidon or to reach its operating depth. One could use underwater nuclear mines to destroy UUVs of this sort. Such weapons (for example, UUM-125A) were developed in the US, including in the 1980s, but were closed due to their extreme cost and pollution.
Future carriers of Poseidon will be Belgorod and Khabarovsk nuclear subs, each of which could carry up to six such UUVs. Poseidon could conduct both combat and reconnaissance operations without coming into direct contact with the enemy, making them the first 5th generation submarines. Experts believe that the average cost of such a UUV would be between $30-40 million.
Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missile system
The public also heard of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile. This weapon, according to experts, is based on the Iskander ballistic missile, and represents the first successful adaptation of a ballistic missile for airborne carry.
It is known that Kinzhal’s top speed is in the neighborhood of Mach 10, or over 12,000 km/h, its combat range is about 2000 km, while flight trajectory carries it to altitudes of 50-80km above the Earth’s surface.
At the moment Kinzhal’s carrier is the MiG-31 all-weather interceptor fighter, in the future that role could also be undertaken by the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter.
The high speed fighter’s flight characteristics allow the missile to be delivered to its launch point within minutes. According to experts, Kinzhal launch procedure is as follows: ascend to the stratosphere, then launch the missile into near-orbital heights where it can reach hypersonic speed before descending onto its target while continuing to gain speed. Aerodynamic control surfaces allow the missile to maneuver throughout its trajectory and thus evade air- and missile-defense zones. It is the ability to maneuver at hypersonic speeds that gives the missile its invulnerability which increases its likelihood of striking the target. In order to intercept the Kinzhal, the Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile would have to reach the speed of Mach 15, and at the moment there is no such missile in US arsenal. The best the PAC-3 can do is Mach 4.5. Kinzhal can strike not only stationary but also mobile targets, such as warships.
The missile is also difficult to detect. It approaches its target at an angle of 90 degrees, above the cone covered by the AN/SPY-1 radar of the naval Aegis air defense system. Thus the missile could operate in a US radar blind zone.
Most information about this missile is currently classified, though it is known it could carry conventional or nuclear payloads. Even though its range is only 2,000km, experts believe it will be equipped with a nuclear propulsion system that would make it a nuclear weapon. It is not known to what extent designers were able to resolve the skin heating problem. Ensuring heat insulation was usually accomplished using ceramic plating (US and Russian space shuttles, X-51A Waverider). But the Kinzhal appears smooth. Specialists therefore believe that Kinzhal was made possible thanks to development of new materials for the missile’s skin, structure, and thermal isolation.
The first Kinzhals entered limited-scale service in December 2017, and they are already available to combat units in the Southern Military District, where the doctrine for their use is being developed.
Avangard gliding vehicle
The development of a future ICBM with a brand-new payload type in the form of a gliding vehicle was the real technological breakthrough. The testing of Avangard has been successfully concluded. According to available information, Avangard can reach the top speed of Mach 20 and is one of the possible payload options for Sarmat.
The warhead can fly in dense layers of the atmosphere over intercontinental distances, while performing evasive dog-legs both horizontally (up to several thousand kilometers) and vertically. Specialists assess that the Avangard has not only an aerodynamic control system but also a propulsion system to be able to perform such maneuvers.
In spite of flying in a plasma cloud, the warhead can receive signals from its command center. It used to be an impossible task, since plasma blocks radio waves. Another challenge that was successfully overcome was the problem of heat insulation. It cannot be ruled out that the Avangard uses new generation high-temperature ceramic composites that use silicon carbide, capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 2,000 C. By mid-March it was announced that the first Avangard carriers would become the UR-100N UTTKh (SS-19 Stiletto) ICBMs that will most likely become part of the RS-24 Yars strategic missile system. About 30 of these missiles were delivered from Ukraine in the early ‘00s to cover natural gas debts. After the Soviet break-up, they were stored un-fueled. Once Sarmat is adopted, it too will carry Avangard warheads. The Russian MOD already signed a contract for serial delivery of Avangards, and they will enter line service in the near future.
Peresvet combat laser system
Among the weapon systems “utilizing novel physics principles” was a combat laser system. According to Vladimir Putin, it also began to enter service starting in 2017 and, after a vote on the MOD website, was named Peresvet. Even though it is already entering service, relatively little is known about it. It is most likely an air defense system against drones, helicopters, and low-flying aircraft. It is possible that it’s intended to defeat the new US ABM systems and US hypersonic weapons under development. Specialists believe the laser system could be used against land targets, and that it is “charged” by miniature nuclear power cells. What is not known is its effective range, and whether it could be used to disable the adversary’s satellites.
One should note that no US or NATO official expressed doubts concerning the existence of these Russian inventions, only “disappointment” over how the information as presented. Indeed, these weapons were already known in varying degrees to the expert community, but having them presented by the Supreme Commander naturally made a greater splash. Within several hours after the presentation, leading world media reacted with restraint, though it was evident this was an utter surprise to them. In the end, it was announced that Pentagon has long known about Russian weapons developments, the US has a proper answer to such “superweapons”, and Putin’s speech was intended for the domestic audience on the eve of elections. This amounted to an indirect admission that the attempt to gain a unilateral strategic advantage by deploying ABM systems around Russia failed, and hundreds of billions of US taxpayer dollars were spent for naught. Nevertheless, Pentagon immediately demanded huge additional expenditures in order to “catch up to the Russians”, which can’t help but excite the US Military-Industrial Complex which supports Trump and whose political influence will only increase.
In any event, despite Russia’s development hypersonic nuclear weapons, the global strategic balance remains stable. Both sides retain a guaranteed ability to destroy each other. They will rethink and refine their nuclear strategies, in part because the reaction time has shrunk, due to hypersonic delivery vehicles, from 20-30 minutes to a far shorter interval. Which increases the likelihood of launching retaliatory strikes before the nuclear attack warnings are confirmed.
The new delivery vehicles are not covered by START-3 which regulates the number of warheads, ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers possessed by US and Russia. Hypersonic missiles and autonomous nuclear torpedoes are outside the treaty, so unless START-3 is not updated in the near future, it will become irrelevant. Which means that we will soon see both sides behind the negotiating table, which means the strategic balance will be preserved and the world will be made safer.
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*All posts on behalf of South Front are made by Gordon Duff