Russia Displays New Nuclear Capabilities
Major-General Andrey Prikhodko told military journal Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) on July 20, 2018, that the Air and Space forces successfully tested a new missile for Russia’s missile defense system at the Sary-Shagan test range in Kazakhstan. The Major-General announced that the new modernized anti-missile defense system successfully accomplished the task and struck a conventional target at the set time. The missile, a PRS-1M Hypersonic interceptor missile, was first tested in November 2017 and then again in February; both of these tests also took place at Sary-Shagan. Images from Sary-Shagan show the PRS-M1 missile being transported to the launch site by truck and then fired into the air.
An interceptor missile — an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) — is designed to counter ballistic missiles by delivering warheads into an inbound missile’s flight trajectory. The PRS-1M interceptor missile is to become part of Russia’s A-135 ABM shield, which is a system of ABMs and detection equipment designed to protect Moscow from a nuclear strike. The system also contains the Don-2N radar in Sofrino, the 5K80 command center in Pushkino, and several 53T6 missiles, which the PRS-1M missiles are set to replace. These missiles boast a new engine and lighter hull components, which allows for speeds of up to 4 km (about 2.5 miles) per second. The missile also sports a more updated guidance system than its predecessor.
The test launch comes on the heels of the Russian Defense Ministry releasing videos of their new, advanced nuclear weapons: the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, the Poseidon underwater drone, and the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The tests are one of the first follow-ups to President Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly in March, where he strongly criticized the United States’ (U.S.) decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. After trying to re-engage the American side in serious discussions for last fifteen years, Putin said that Russia has shifted focus to building weapons that can subvert ABM systems.
Among the videos is the first official close-up of the Burevestnik cruise missile, which is reportedly capable of using a nuclear-powered engine. Though the video shows the missile launching, many skeptics doubt how the missile is capable of doing much more. It is also unclear whether the missile has yet been tested with a nuclear-powered engine, or if only conventional ones have been used. The Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle was shown being loaded into a silo. Hypersonic boost-glide vehicles are faster and more maneuverable than typical ICBMs, making them hard to defend against.
The RS-28 Sarmat is the most well-known of the five missiles, and its video contained the fewest surprises. The ICBM recently underwent ‘pop-up’ tests, which evaluate the mechanisms that allow the missile to leave its silo. This was the Sarmat’s third pop-up test; with its successful completion, Russian missile engineers are now preparing for its first test launch. Sarmat missiles are expected to carry approximately ten Avangard warheads, each of which has an explosive yield of 750 kilotons. Notably, it was the Sarmat missile that was depicted dropping missiles on what appeared to be Florida in a graphic accompanying President Putin’s address.
The video of the Poseidon used computer-generated graphics to show the drone launching weapons at a coastal radar system. Russia reportedly ran mock attacks on a Norwegian coastal radar system late last year. Kinzhal missiles are air-launched, and their video showed them being fired from MiG-31Ks. The weapons are supposed to have a range of 930-1,240 miles, but reports citing unnamed U.S. officials say they have only reached 500 miles in tests.