RS-24 / SS-X-29?
Update on the highly modified Topol-M or Improved RS-22, SS-24 SCALPEL?
By Charles P. Vick, Senior Analyst, Globalsecurity.org
On 29 May 2007 Russia conducted the first reported test of the new RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRV). A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said "the prototype of the new ICBM, RS-24 with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles was launched at 2:20 p.m. [ Moscow time, 10:20 GMT] from a mobile launcher remodeled to test the new ICBM from the Plesetsk test cosmodrome". "The test launch of the RS-24 (ICBM) occurred at 14:20 Moscow time ( 1:20 GMT) at Plesetsk and at the designated time the warheads struck the assigned region at the Kura base on Kamchatka," a spokesman for Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces told the news agency Interfax.
The RS-24 missile can be armed with up to 10 warheads, the Defence Ministry told Interfax. Six war heads are carried by the SS-19 Stiletto while 10 warheads are carried by the SS-18 Satan. The spokesman said the RS-24 will replace ICBMs of the previous generations RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) and RS-20 (SS-18 Satan) capable of carrying six and ten warheads respectively. It can also be expected to replace the aged 10 warhead SS-24, Scalpel. It was further stated by the Strategic Rocket Forces spokesman that “It is a genuine new missile but it uses technologies of the Topol-M,” according to AFP. This is in order to penetrate any existing anti-ballistic missile system.
Confusing Information Considerations
Later First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov a former defense minister expected to run for President of Russia next year stated that “the missile was a new version of the Topol-M, first commissioned in 1997 and known as the SS-27 in the West, but one that can carry multiple independent warheads,” ITAR-TASS is quoted as saying. It is said to be compliant with the START-1 treaty and the Moscow Treaty of 2002 requirements.
The latter attributed statement by First deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has tended to confuse the RS-24’s warhead carrying capacity issue. That is because if the RS-24 is indeed a highly modified version of the Topol-M, SS-27 then its potential warhead capacity would only be 3 warheads. However if it indeed there were 10 warheads tends to suggest that the missile is a new improved Russian produces RS-22, SS-24 SCALPEL ICBM. Prior to this flight test of the full RS-24 system Russia had done at least two research and development flight test in 2005 – 2006 using the older Topol-M derivation for MIRV development. Russia’s military had announced that it intended to produce an ICBM carrying multiple warheads, based on the single warhead Topol-M missile when the US withdrew from the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty during 2002. This was the first flight test of the full up completely revised RS-24 launch vehicle that greatly increases the booster stages payload capacity in order to carry a multiple warhead package to full range.
The Means of Accomplishing the Task
This could be accomplished for the Topol-M variation if the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering (MIT) State Enterprise design bureau was to adapt revised versions of the existing Start-1 and Start satellite launch vehicles upper stages to accommodate a larger payload throw weigh capacity that was 1.2 tons for a single warhead. This mass would have to be raised to at least 1.215-1.62 or 3.6 tons to 4.8/4.05 tons for three or four or up to ten warheads suggested throw weight over 10,000-10,500 kilometers range. That is the warhead mass would be 1.2 tons or less based on the SS-27 and SS-24 designs experience. In order to accommodate a ten warhead throw weight capability it would seem more reasonable that the Russians would have to put into limited production the improved SS-24 with a throw weight of 4.05 tons which is not inconceivable. This is not yet indicated with any certainty. To accommodate the silo requirements and launch canister modifications the 10 warhead Topol-M would require the warheads to be stacked vertically in groups of four and four and toped by two more or three on three on three and one on top with deployment sideways for most of the warheads during the MIRV maneuvering dispenser operations. This becomes quite a trick to stay with the treaty permitted modification both in diameter and length requirements for the launch canister and silo deployment. This is why the chosen warhead mass details are so critical to analyzing the design changes depending on the actual missile chosen and modified by the Russians. If the Topol-M is indeed the highly modified vehicle then its second, third and potential fourth stages would have to have been redesigned to a larger diameter to accommodate the mass and performance loads requirements. Presumably a cylindrical shroud encased hammerhead shaped warhead packet configuration is not inconceivable. This would probably make it greatly resemble the Minuteman-III, IV design characteristics known as the SS-X-27 with a bulbous front section nose warhead packet. From the description of the use of a “mobile launcher remodeled” transporter erector launcher (TEL) this would seem to fit. But is it a treaty compliant modification? In the absence of imagery brings this into question among the many questions remaining open on this new weapon development.
Prior to the announcement of this test, the RS-24 ICBM was not previously attested. The "RS" designation system is used in the bilateral START arms control agreements, and internal Russian or the US and NATO designations of this missile were not immediately apparent. As described, launched from a mobile launcher with ten warheads, it would appear to be a successor to the RT-23, 15Zh60, Molodets, RS-22, SS-24 transporter erector launcher (TEL) modified for the redesigned RS-24 characteristics.
Considerations of the SS-X-26
There was initially some considerations that the systems heritage came from the former Soviet Unions cancelled research and development SS-X-26, Kuryer large solid propellant super ICBM. The logistic mass handling issues of this large SS-X-26 ICBM concept presumable brings into question whether this is the design approach utilized by the design bureau, Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering (MIT) State Enterprise of the Moscow region. That design was in fact produced in the Ukraine which is a non viable option for Russia today. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union one of the first Western desired actions was for the Ukraine to destroy both the facilities and the capability to produce the SS-X-26. This makes this option for what the Russian chose highly improbable.
RS-22, SS-24 SCALPEL Considerations
However another alternative considered was a revival of the RS-22, SS-24 SCALPEL ICBM for silo deployment in the existing SS-19 and SS-18 silos which is indicated from the announcement. The RS-24 as described it apparently used a modified existing road mobile Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) SS-27, Topel-M or SS-24, Scalpel equipment. This brings up the question of just how mobile such a system could be made because of its suggested size since it was once railroad deployed and at least one group of them remains deployed. That was because the railroad mobile equipment was more able to handle the mass and logistic operation. The Railroad mobile system left much to be desired even though some remain deployed today from the Soviet era. It was however quite troubling to the US Defense Department during that era. This new Russian RS-24 development with its present intent to place them in the existing silos as a modernized replacement of the existing field deployed aged large ICBM systems however holds open the question that potentially the Russians could renewing the railroad mobile program modernized is also implicit with this development and other associated developments.
The missile would have to be mobile enough to transport to the existing SS-24, SS-19 and SS-18 silos though modified for which it would potentially be deployed. If this is the option Russia has chosen to replace the aged solid propellant SS-24’s, liquid propellant SS-19’s and SS-18’s with the solid propellant RS-24 would become their replacement. It has been known that the aged SS-24’s as well as the SS-19’s and SS-18’s needed to be replaced with an updated more modern system since refurbishing them is probably more expensive than it is worth especially where the SS-18 is concerned. The SS-18’s were designed and built in the Yuzhnoy, Yangel design bureau factory in the Ukraine. Having been produced in the Ukraine makes revising the SS-18’s a non viable option since Russia would insist that they be re-built in Russia.
There are already limited numbers of the SS-24 deployed in Russia but they are known to be degraded. The existing logistic equipment and other support hardware somewhat modernized could in fact support such a program with few new elements actually required. The cost comes in developing the solid motors and its experimental development and experimental production base in Russia which only once existed in the Ukraine. How much cooperation on this effort from the Ukraine has taken place is improbable but not inconceivable and unclear at this point. All of these developments coming out of the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering (MIT) State Enterprise have not emerged from the public sources in recent years as the Russian defense ministry has held close its intent. There is however absolutely no open indication that Moscow has undertaken any effort to develop a production base for the SS-24’s much less a revised version of that Ukrainian design but that does not preclude its possibility. Many of these aged missile systems will become obsolete by 2010 according to Ministry information and must soon there after or before be replaced. Further flight test of the RS-24 can be expected to follow this first known flight test to finish its development and clarify these issues during the President Putin administrations remaining time in office.
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