Russia is preparing to test-launch its new generation of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it has claimed will be able to penetrate the US’ defensive shield.
Delayed several times, the tests of the RS-28’s launch and first few seconds of flight are to be carried out at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in Russia’s north-west, before the end of the year.
The trials had been postponed because launch silos and the projectiles themselves were not ready, according to the state-controlled Sputnik website, which cited the Kommersant newspaper.
The RS-28 Sarmat, a 100-plus-ton ICBM that government-controlled media has claimed could destroy an area the size of Texas, is designed to evade missile defences with multiple hypersonic warheads, known as MIRVs.
Talking up its capabilities, state-linked Russian sites have claimed an 11,000km range, a payload of up to 15 warheads and the ability to “speed past every missile defence system in existence”.
RIA Novosti said individual warheads could have yields up to 750kt and that RS-28 launch silos would be built to withstand seven nuclear strikes.
Outside sources cast doubt on some of these specifications. RIA said the new missile will have a “throw weight” – the mass of all components minus fuel and the launch rocket – of five tons.
But Michael Kofman, a research scientist from the Centre for Naval Analyses, told The National Interest earlier this year: “If RIA is right, and it probably is not right, how do you fit a payload of 10 warheads and tons of decoys into five tons?
“There are large questions outstanding about conflicting claims about throw-weight, warheads and penetration aids.”
Russia expects the RS-28 to enter service by the beginning of the next decade as part of its ongoing nuclear modernisation.
Reports of the planned tests emerged after US President Donald Trump called for “total rehabilitation” of America’s nuclear forces.
He had denied reports he was seeking a 10-fold increase in the US’ arsenal, saying instead he wanted “modernisation”.
In 2010 the US and Russia signed the New START treaty, which mandated a significant reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
The US military said it carried out a successful test of its ground-based missile interception system, called THAAD, earlier this year amid growing tension with North Korea. It also test-launched an unarmed Cold War-era Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Pyongyang has claimed it now possesses ballistic missiles capable of targeting the US mainland.
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