Last month, Russia carried out two tests of Yars RS-24 (SS-29) intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missiles were launched on Sept. 12 and Sept. 20 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia to the Kura target range in Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East. The weapon can be launched from both the ground and a vehicle.
The first test was conducted from a silo to be followed up with a second launch of the same missile but from a mobile platform. Mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles are harder to detect and hit. It was the first test of the mobile Yars ICBM variant since December 2014. The distance between the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and the Kura test range in the Kamchatka Peninsula is more than 6,000 kilometers.
The last launch coincided with Zapad-2017 (or West-2017) wargames in Belarus, which ended on Sept. 20. The test launches of Yars ICBMs also came as Russia’s Northern Fleet was conducting large-scale exercises in the Barents Sea, involving more than 20 warships and 5,000 personnel. The main purpose of the launches was to confirm the reliability of rockets of the same class. The tests showcased Russia’s successful modernization of its nuclear deterrent.
In service since 2010, the RS-24 Yars has been at the forefront of Russian efforts to modernize its nuclear forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Yars will account for 72 percent of the strategic missile forces by the end of 2017. The most advanced nuclear-tipped missile in the Russian military arsenal, it is designed to replace the outdated liquid-propellant R-36 (SS-18 Satan) and UR-100N (SS-19 Stiletto) that have been in use for nearly 50 years. The Yars is designed for a service life of about 20 years.
The solid-fuel three-stage MIRV-capable (Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles) Yars is a completely new missile. It was first tested a decade ago, and has been in use by Russian forces for seven years.
Equipped with three to six 150–250 kiloton warheads, the RS-24 Yars can hit targets up to 11,000 kilometers (6,800 mi) away. A minimum range: 2,000 km. The speed is over Mach 20 (24,500 km/h; 15,220 mph; 6,806 m/s). Launch weight: 49,600 kg. Guidance is inertial with GLONASS global navigation system. Accuracy: 150-200 m CEP (Circular Error of Probability).Crew: 4. Length: 20.9 m. The missile has a diameter of 2.0 m for the first stage, 1.8 m for the second stage, and 1.6 m for the third stage. It is also fitted with a Post-Boost Vehicle (PBV) with a total length of 2.7 m.
It takes 7 minutes to prepare for launch. The mobile Yars can fire its missile from prepared site, special garage with a sliding roof, or from unprepared position during field deployment. The TEL vehicle can leave its position once the missile is launched.
The launcher component is the MZKT-79221 16×16 ultra-heavy-duty truck capable of moving along rough terrain at an ambient temperature of -50° to +45°. The YaMz-847engine’s power: 588 kW (800 hp). Maximum road speed: 45 km/h. Range: 500 km. First three and last three axles are steered. The truck boasts good cross-country mobility. The TEL (transporter erector launcher) vehicle is operated by a crew of three. The missile sits over the top of the truck and splits the forward mounted driving cab which overhangs the chassis.
The sides of the hull are lined with large road wheels with a few of the axles being steerable. During field deployment the Yars TEL is escorted by a number support vehicles, including support vehicle, mobile command posts, signals vehicle, fuel tanker, and a host of other military vehicles with troops to ensure security of the missile. In case of emergency the TEL vehicle can operate autonomously without its escort. A fuel tanker is based on a similar 16×16 chassis, but carries an enormous fuel tank in place of ballistic missile.
Russia’s defence ministry said its latest missile test was part of efforts to develop new technologies for piercing missile defenses, but gave no further details. Fitted with more advanced decoys and countermeasures and featuring very high speed, the Yars is specifically designed to penetrate missile defense systems. It has the capability to maneuver during flight and deploy both active and passive decoys. The first September launch tested “experimental” warheads.
The Russia’s modernization efforts include new missile systems, modern ballistic missile submarines, and upgraded strategic bombers. Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced on February 21 that 90 percent of the country’s strategic nuclear forces will be armed with modern weaponry by 2020.
Russia plans to conduct over a dozen intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017. It tested a submarine-based Bulava ICBM in June, successfully targeting the same facility as in the latest test, located near the Pacific coast in Kura. A test of its RS-28 Sarmat super-heavy thermonuclear missile could be held in October.
All the efforts take place in strict accordance with the Russian obligations under the New START Treaty. Moscow has to continue the modernization of its strategic nuclear arsenal in view of US nuclear modernization plans, which could bury the existing arms control regime.