The Makeyev Design Bureau – the designer of Russia’s heavy liquid fuelled Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (“ICBMs”) – ie. of missiles capable of reaching US territory from Russian territory, has published the first picture of Russia’s new heavy Sarmat ICBM which is due to enter service shortly, probably in 2018.
The picture is accompanied by a short statement which reads
“In accordance with the Decree of the Russian Government ‘On the State Defence Order for 2010 and the planning period 2012-2013,’ the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau was instructed to start design and development work on the Sarmat. In June 2011, the Bureau and the Russian Ministry of Defense signed a state contract for the Sarmat’s development. The prospective strategic missile system is being developed in order to assuredly and effectively fulfil objectives of nuclear deterrent by Russia’s strategic forces.”
The Sarmat is the planned replacement of the R-36 family of Russian ICBMs, which entered service with the Soviet armed forces in the 1960s. The R-36 family culminated in a series of missiles known in the USSR and Russia as the R-36M, which entered service in the 1970s. With a throw weight of 8,800 kg these were the heaviest and most powerful ICBMs built up to now. Here is a video of one being launched:
The specifications of the Sarmat have not been disclosed and are classified. However it is believed to be a significantly smaller and lighter missile than the R-36 family, but to have a larger throw weight of up to 10,000 kg.
Advances in the chemical industry and in the design of rocket engines since the 1960s have made it possible to build smaller and lighter rockets having the same or greater capability as the heavier rockets designed in the 1960s.
The Sarmat has been specifically designed to defeat the US’s Anti Ballistic Missile systems, which are being deployed in eastern Europe.
Its range of countermeasures is classified and not known. However it is believed the Sarmat is capable of manoeuvres during its flight trajectory to confuse incoming missiles, that it is able to launch decoys – also to confuse incoming interceptor missiles – and that at least one of the warheads being designed for it is a hypersonic warhead, which rumours say was tested successfully in April, and which is believed to be impervious to interception by incoming missiles.
A little mentioned fact about the military strategic balance between the US and Russia, is that Russia has been steadily upgrading its strategic deterrent with new advanced missiles, which are entirely different to those of the 1960s, which formed the basis of the Soviet strategic deterrent.
These include the Topol and Yars light road mobile solid fuel ICBMs, and the very advanced solid fuelled Bulava ICBM, which is sea launched from Russia’s advanced Borei strategic nuclear missile submarines. (Below)
By contrast the US strategic deterrent still relies on missile systems such as the ground-based Minuteman III and the sea launched Trident II, which have their origins in the 1960s and early 1970s.
With the Sarmat missile, which is supposed to enter service in 2018, the Russians will add another powerful modern advanced system to their strategic armoury.