The Sarmat ICBM and Hypersonic Warheads

2016 is supposed to see the first flight tests of the Russian replacement to the SS 18 “heavy” land and silo based SS-18 ICBM, and the missile, known as “Sarmat,” is scheduled to start entering into service in 2018.

The SS 18 is the missile that formed the basis of the fraudulent “window of vulnerability” that the Reagnites used in the late 1970s to beat détente into a pulp.

The Sarmat is presented as an approximately 100 tonne liquid fuelled ICBM, so kinda similar to the SS 19, that will have sufficient, it is said, boost phase speed to outrun currently deployed US ballistic missile defense systems. An article published today in the Russian press attracted my attention because of this statement.

“In this sense, the Sarmat missile will not only become the R-36M’s successor, but also to some extent it will determine in which direction nuclear deterrence in the world will develop,”

In late April this year the Russian’s flight tested the SS-19 ICBM, which the Sarmat will also replace, and a Russian news report carried some information which sheds some light on the above statement.

Russian Strategic Missile Forces have conducted a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, testing a hypersonic cruise vehicle, Interfax reported, citing a source familiar with the issue…

…All modern nuclear warheads are delivered on targets using ballistic trajectory that can be calculated, therefore such warheads could be intercepted. Hypersonic warheads currently in design would be capable of manoeuvring by yaw and pitch, eventually becoming impossible to intercept, thus making any existing and upcoming missile defense system impotent.

During the 1980s the Soviet response to Star Wars, which never got off the ground as it were, was the MaRV warhead or Manoeuvrable Reentry Vehicle, which makes programmed maneuverers in flight as the warhead heads toward its designated target. My understanding is that the Soviets saw the SS-19 missile as being the missile for the MaRV warhead, and that the Soviets used the SS-19 to flight test their MaRV programme.

It must be stressed that, if this report is to be believed (Russian news reports on nuclear matters should be taken with a grain of salt), we are not talking here about a MaRV capability.

The new missile, weighing at least 100 tons, will reportedly be capable of carrying a payload of up to 10 tons on any trajectory. This means an attack on a target could be made from any direction, i.e. RS-28 could start from Russia and fly in the direction of Antarctica, make a circumterrestrial flight and hit targets on the other side of the planet from an unexpected direction

The leading open source analyst of Russian strategic nuclear forces writing in English, if not also Russian, Pavel Podvig seems to concur. Of the hypersonic warhead Podvig wrote

Russia first went public with its “hypersonic weapon” more than ten years ago – in February 2004 it tested a warhead that according to the Kremlin “will fly at hyper-sonic speed and will be able to change trajectory both in terms of altitude and direction, and missile defence systems will be powerless against them.”

What is at issue here is a hypersonic warhead with an all azimuth attack capability, that is an ability to attack the target from any direction, and an all azimuth launch capability, that is to launch on any azimuth with the ability to vary attack approaches. A clear motive driving this capability is US ballistic missile defense.

China and the United States are working on something similar.

The stuff about 40 Mt Texas busting warheads can be discarded. The Tsar Bomba test was ~50 Mt and no way will any Sarmat ICBM feature a warhead of such unnecessarily high yield.