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New "Satan" disturbs sleep of the Defense Minister

New "Satan" disturbs sleep of the Defense Minister

01.08.2011 — Analysis

The Russian Ministry of Defense is putting the finishing touch on its technical specifications for a new ballistic missile to replace the Voevoda missile. The design will be developed by the State Rocket Center named after academician Makeyev. Designers are expected to offer innovative solutions in suppression of potential enemy antimissile defense. Experts feel perplexed about the assigned task: No country in the world has systems that would be able to intercept heavy-weight missiles. Furthermore, as the "RusBusinessNews" columnist has found it out, Russia being bound with international obligations will not be able to batch-produce the new product. The latter fact puts in question the feasibility of money allocation for the new "Satan" missile.

The Voevoda intercontinental ballistic missile (SS-18 Satan) was designed more than forty years ago and is still in operational service with the Russian army. Being liquid fueled, it is able to carry up to ten nuclear warheads. The army has 58 missiles of the kind, which turns "Satan" into the key element of the strategic nuclear forces: Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) Russia can have 1,500 warheads.

In 2009, the RF Ministry of Defense decided that the army needed a new heavy-weight missile. The explanation offered to the public emphasized the fact that Voevoda had become obsolete and soon was going to be de-commissioned. In their informal conversation, the military community tended to link the given assignment with the firm decision of the European Union and the USA concerning European location of antimissile defense systems, which are allegedly intended for Russian ICBMs rather than for interception of Iranian missiles.

The responsibility for missile design development was given to the State Rocket Center named after academician V.P. Makeyev, OJSC, which not long ago provided the army with a modified submarine launched missile - Sineva - with enhanced warheads and high survivability. Viktor Yesin, a former Chief of Staff of the Missile Forces, has told mass media that the new missile will be able to hit targets at a distance of up to 11 thousand kilometers, having a load of more than 9 tons, i.e. up to 15 warheads. Its main task is to overcome easily present-day antimissile defense systems, including laser facilities.

A number of experts carped at the design developer selected for the new silo-based missile: The State Rocket Center named after academician Makeyev has no experience in designing land-based ICBMs, and some experts fear the reoccurrence of the situation with the Bulava submarine-launched missile, which goes through the painful completion stage at the "land-based" Moscow Heat Engineering Institute (MIT).

The rocket center left all innuendoes without comment: Elena Kontareva, a spokesperson at the State Rocket Center, noted that the "Makeyev people" do not tend to express their opinion in public. She also refrained from judgment about the words of the MIT General Designer, Yuri Solomonov, who thinks that the Defense Ministry is wrong in its decision to design a new liquid-fueled missile.

Yu. Solomonov has repeatedly spoke out his arguments in mass media. The designer believes that the silo-based missile has much weaker protection against enemy attacks. Besides, the new offensive weapon may come into conflict with the START treaty and will find no demand. Yuri Solomonov suggests that instead of focusing on the new "Satan", the priority should be placed on conceptually different technologies: The situation in the armament sector is changing rapidly, whereas design development and large-scale manufacturing of prospective items take many years. In his opinion, the Voevoda-2 project should be limited to conceptual design: Liquid-fueled ballistic missiles go out of date.

Alexander Khramchikhin, Deputy Director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, think that Yu. Solomonov is not absolutely right. The survivability of Voevoda, according to the expert, can be compared with that of the Topol-M mobile complex: The access to the silo door of the cruise missile is even more difficult than the access to the hangar where the mobile unit is located. Besides, if the new missile (conventionally referred to as the Proryv (Breakthrough)) is placed in the existing silo, it will cost cheaper than Topol-M. However, A. Khramchikhin also sees no sense in development of a new "Satan".

Under the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty (START), Russia is allowed not more than 700 carriers and 1,550 warheads. By 2011, the RF missile forces had 375 heavy ballistic missiles with 1,259 warheads. The logical assumption is that the larger number of missiles with multiple warheads has no sense: It more feasible to increase the number of carriers to make their destruction more difficult. Besides, the limiting cap of 1,500 warheads casts doubt on large-scale production of Proryv missiles. On the other hand, the cost of manufacturing a small batch will be exorbitant. Furthermore, according to Alexander Khramchikhin, there is no antimissile defense system that might be deemed as a threat to Russian super-heavy ballistic missiles. The systems that exist in Europe and that are so much talked about cannot compete with Voevoda in terms of combat characteristics. American sea-based antimissiles can knock down mid-range missiles and even some in-orbit satellites, but they still have a long way to go before they can intercept Satan. Therefore, all references to threats from the European Union and the USA are nothing but all-too-familiar idle talk intended to justify expenses on development of a missile that is actually not required.

Igor Korotchenko, the editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, told "RusBusinessNews" that the existing Topol, Yars and Bulava are sufficient to achieve nuclear parity with the USA. In his opinion, the funds that are earmarked for design development of a breakthrough missile should be spent on manufacturing of Bulava missiles. Propyv, if any, is still awhile away from now, whereas obsolete systems should be removed from operations tomorrow, thus meaning the risk of reduction in the Russian strategic nuclear capacity.

I. Korotchenko does not suggest that research work in promising areas should be suspended, but he does not understand why development of a strategic item for the second time in the Russian modern history has not been assigned to those who know the matter "inside out". When the Moscow Heat Engineering Institute was given the task to design Bulava, experts loudly protested, saying that it was biting more than it could chew and a sea-based missile would be too tough for it. The project is all moans and groans; MIT has blown all the reasonable deadlines scheduled for the missile to be put into batch production. However, the situation repeats itself: the "sea-targeted" State Rocket Center has embarked on development of a ground-based item. Igor Korotchenko thinks that there are some pitfalls that should be investigated.

Experts are sure that the development of Proryv should have been assigned to the Machine-Building Research and Production Association, OJSC, which has experience in manufacturing of liquid-fueled silo-based missiles. This research and production association took part in the tender and, according to the Izvestia newspaper, even came as the winner, having offered a number of solutions to cut substantially costs of Proryv. Taking into account the clouded outlook for large-scale manufacturing of the new missile, its estimated cost must be a crucial factor when assessing the tender results, though not for the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Military analysts think that the selection of the winner was predetermined by the fact that Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian Defense Minister, is a member of the Board of Directors at the State Makeyev Rocket Center. Apparently, he wants to retain personal control over billions of rubles that are going to be spent on development and manufacturing of breakthrough missiles.

The government program for Russian armament till 2020 earmarks 77 billion rubles for new missile systems, with 15 billion rubles allocated to upgrading of manufacturing facilities intended for production of new missiles. Approximately 7 billion rubles will be given to the Krasnoyarsk Machine-Building Factory owned by the State Makeyev Rocket Center. Experts agree that the amount is quite attractive, taking into account that batch production of Proryv can never be started.

Vladimir Terletsky

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