As promised, here comes the first part of my attempt to catch up with the events of the last four weeks, starting with Russia.
Russia celebrated the end of the year 2007 with additional pyrotechnics in the form of a series of four missile launches.
On December 8 it successfully test-fired an intercontinental RS-12M Topol ballistic missile, called SS-25 Sickle by NATO. Russia's Strategic Missile Forces regularly launch missiles to test their performance characteristics and decide whether they can remain in service. That was for example the purpose of the last Topol test on October 19 which led the extension of the missile's service life to 21 years, much longer than the 10 years originally intended. The missile test-launch in early December served an additional purpose: Strategic Missile Forces (SFM)spokesman Alexander Vovk told RIA Novosti that it contained new equipment able to pierce anti-missile shields.
Next in line was the test-launch of the R-29RM Sineva SLBM on December 17 by the K-114 Tula (Delta IV-class) nuclear submarine. The missile is liquid-fueled and also known as RSM-54, 3M27, and by its NATO classification SS-N-23. This was the first test-launch after the Sineva version of the missile was officially accepted for service in July 2007. The Sineva differs from its predecessor, the Skiff version of the R-29RM that entered service in 1989, in various aspects: the new missile has a longer range, a modern control system and an improved accuracy, which is estimated at 500m CEP. There was some confusion about the number of warheads it can carry, figures ranging from three to ten. For a discussion see the comments in this entry of Pavel Podvig’s Russian Forces Blog. As it seems to be an emerging standard, the Sineva is said to be able to “outperform any anti-missile system likely to be deployed”. However, it remains an unproven standard.
For an info-graphic of the Sineva-launch produced by RIA Novosti click on this picture:
Those who would like to practice their Russian can do so here:
The third test was conducted again by the K-114 Tula submarine. It was another successful Sineva test on December 25, this time from a submerged position.
On the same day Russia conducted its fourth December missile test. From the Plesetsk Space Center it test-launched for the second time its “new” MIRV-ed RS-24 ICBM, also known as Yars. The first test of this missile took place on May 29, 2007. It is needless to point out, that also the RS-24 “will enable the [Russian Strategic Missile Forces] to infiltrate any missile defense systems, even those that have not yet been established”.
Pavel’s video collection also holds a short clip on the start:
Russia holds also ambitious plans for the coming years. The SMFrecently announced that Russia would conduct at least 11 test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2008 and would double the number of launches after 2009 "to prevent the weakening of Russia's nuclear deterrence under any circumstances."
Strategic Missiles Forces commander Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov told a news conference that Russia is putting an average of three mobile and three or four fixed-site missile launching systems into operation every year.
In addition to further fielding current weapon systems, Russia also plans to develop new ones. SMF spokesman Alexander Vovk explained that “in the next five-ten years Russia’s SMF may adopt a new, more advanced [than the Topol-M] ballistic missile system”. Stratfor elaborates on that and comes to the conclusion that
a fundamentally new ICBM design probably would be closer to the SS-18 and SS-19 in MIRV capacity, though will almost certainly use solid fuel. If such a missile can be designed, tested and produced in meaningful numbers, it could represent a way for Moscow to meaningfully alter the downward trajectory of its strategic deterrent. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, its track record does not make for promising prospects in this regard.