What a difference a year makes - since the last update in August 2013, we now can see three more early-warning radars - in Yeniseysk (Voronezh-DM), near Barnaul (Voronezh-DM), and near Orsk (Voronezh-M).
The Yeniseysk radar covers very much the same sector that was supposed to be covered by the old Daryal radar that was built nearby in the 1980s. The radars in Barnaul and Orsk look almost directly South.
Here is an updated Google Earth file that shows locations of the new (and old) radars and the sectors they cover.
Construction of the early-warning radar in Orsk is very much underway. Here is the radar - at 51.273346, 58.959030. It is looking almost directly South (170 degrees).
Google Earth tells us that there was nothing there just a year go - the image from 26 June 2013 shows only some marks where the new radar will be built.
Following the successful Bulava launch from the Vladimir Monomakh submarine earlier today, Admiral Chirkov, the commander of the Russian Navy, told the press that two more submarines will conduct Bulava launches this year - in October and in November. it's quite possible that at least one, if not two, of these will be salvo launches, so the original plan to have five launches before the missile begins combat service will hold.
Earlier, it was suggested that at least one 2014 launch - in November - will be done from Yuri Dolgorukiy.
On September 10, 2014 the Vladimir Monomakh submarine of the Project 995 Borey class successfully launched a Bulava missile from the White Sea toward the Kura test site at Kamchatka (this video appears to show the actual launch. UPDATE: No, it's probably a launch of a R-29RM Sineva/Liner. See the discussion in comments. UPDATE: Here is how a Bulava launch really looks like.). According to the ministry of defense, the launch was part of the state tests of the submarine, which is expected to join the fleet later this year. All warheads were said to successfully reach their targets.
This was the first Bulava launch after the September 2013 failure. At the time, the minister of defense ordered five additional "practical tests" before the missile can be accepted for service. These plans, however, have changed - in June 2014 the ministry of defense announced that only two launches will take place in 2014 and it appears that submarines have started receiving their missiles. At some point it looked like the first 2014 launch will be conducted by Yuri Dolgorukiy, indicating that it is missile that is being tested, not the submarine. But eventually Bulava was launched from Vladimir Monomakh.
I have a brief column on Russia and the INF violation at the European Leadership Network - Don't help Russia destroy the INF Treaty. I don't think the main point I'm trying to make there is particularly controversial - while the United States appears to have reasons to call Russia's noncompliance, the infraction does not seem to be serious enough to press the case too forcefully. Indeed, leaning too hard would only help Russia slam the door and leave the treaty. For what it's worth, the U.S. administration made a smart move - now that the accusation has been made, Russia will find it more difficult to leave the treaty, even if it has been the idea all along. Not impossible, of course, but still.
A couple of points that are probably worth emphasizing. First, as I suspected, the alleged violation is not about the R-500 cruise missile or the Iskander system - U.S. officials were said to informally confirm that. Russian sources also say that the deployed Iskander/R-500 cruise missiles are treaty-compliant.
Second, the evidence presented by the United States to Russia is apparently rather thin - in fact, one Russian official said scornfully that they have to deal with Twitter messages and photos. Some sources say that the United States did not even tell Russia what particular cruise missile this is about. This is somewhat hard to believe, especially since Anatoly Antonov said (my apologies for a link to RT) that the issue was discussed at the end of 2013 and his understanding is that the United States accepted Russia's explanations. So, Russia must know what the issue is. As for the Twitter evidence, I wouldn't be surprised if the United States did not show all its cards - it is quite careful about protecting methods and sources.
In any event, it appears that Russia took the issue seriously and agreed to discuss it at what appears to be a fairly high-level meeting in September. We will see what that meeting produces. But as I understand, Russia is not in the mood to make any corrective actions - it wants the United States to take the accusations back and is perfectly prepared to leave the treaty if this doesn't happen.
Indeed, I was told that quite a few programs that are under development today in Russia simply assume that there are no INF Treaty constraints. And long-range cruise missiles seem to be among those programs. These include various modifications of the 3M14 missile (such as 3M14S, where "S" apparently stands for "strategic", meaning long-range and possibly nuclear). While the 3M14 we have seen is a 6-meter missile, there are 8-meter long modifications as well, which would take us to the SS-N-21 and SSC-X-4 territory. The INF Treaty, of course, does not prohibit development or deployment of SLCMs and we should keep in mind that the difference between an SLCM and GLCM is not particularly big.
One final point. In response to the non-compliance finding, Russia, of course, made some counter-accusation. What's interesting, these seem to have some merit.
First, Russia says that armed drones qualify as GLCM - a literal reading of the treaty seems to suggest that that's the case. Let me copy part of the discussion over at Armscontrolwonk.com, where Thomas Moore tried to rebuff Russia's claims (not very convincingly, as far as I'm concerned):
The INF treaty defines "ground-launched cruise missile" as follows (Article II.2):
The term "ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM)" means a ground-launched cruise missile that is a weapon-delivery vehicle.
It depends on the definition of cruise missile, but it is provided right there:
The term "cruise missile" means an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.
Thomas argued that Russia didn't provide a definition of the term "weapon-delivery vehicle," but it didn't have to - the United States provided one in a note exchange:
In this connection, it is also the position of the Government of the United States of America that the Parties share a common understanding that the term 'weapon-delivery vehicle' in the Treaty means any ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile in the 500 kilometer to 5500 kilometer range that has been flight-tested or deployed to carry or be used as a weapon -- that is, any warhead, mechanism or device, which, when directed against any target, is designed to damage or destroy it.
I don't see how one could make an argument that armed drones are not GLCMs. [UPDATE: Well, maybe there is a way - see the discussion in comments.]
Also, Russia is arguing that deployment of Mk-41 launchers as part of the missile defense sites in Poland and Romania would violate the treaty. This case is not quite clear cut, but Russia seems to have a point.
The Mk-41 Vertical Launch System is capable of launching a range of missiles, including Tomahawk SLCM. There is nothing wrong with that - the INF Treaty does not limit SLCMs and, indeed, allows testing SLCMs from a ground-based launcher as long as this launcher is fixed and located at a designated test site. Unless the United States tested a GLCM from an Mk-41, these launchers are not considered GLCM launchers for the purposes of the INF treaty and, strictly speaking, the treaty does not limit them in any way. But deploying these launchers on land does seem to go against the spirit of the treaty - deployment of a bunch of SLCM launchers on land would be a way to deploy a bunch of GLCMs. And yes, fixed launchers are GLCM launchers in the INF Treaty (Article II.4):
The term "GLCM launcher" means a fixed launcher or a mobile land-based transporter-erector-launcher mechanism for launching a GLCM.
One can argue (as Thomas Moore did) that since the particular launchers that will be deployed in Poland and Romania have not been used to launch SLCMs, they don't qualify as SLCM launchers, but that's not a strong argument. Even though the INF Treaty does not explicitly define SLCM launchers, the common practice in arms control treaties is that if you test a SLCM from a launcher (Mk-41 in this case), all launchers of this type would be considered SLCM launchers. So, I would say that it's reasonable to argue that deployment of Mk-41 anywhere on land outside of agreed test ranges would not be exactly treaty compliant. This would not be an issue if the missile-defense Mk-41 were "distinguishable" from those that were used in SLCM tests, but as I understand, they are not.
So, it looks like the United States and Russia are in for an interesting INF discussion in September. Let's hope we'll learn more about the U.S. accusations and about Russia's response.
Hypersonic vehicles seems all the rage these days - China reportedly tested one, named Wu-14 on August 7, the United States made an attempt to test its own on August 25. Neither of these tests was a success, but it is clear that the tests will continue. What about Russia?
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".
The warhead in question appears to go all the way back to the 1980s. One of the projects developed by the Chelomey Design Bureau (NPOmash) after 1987, an Albatross (solid-propellant) ICBM, included some kind of a maneuverable warhead. In 1989 the Albatross missile system was transferred to other design bureaus (and became Universal, which then became Topol-M), but NPOmash apparently kept the warhead. It was tested at least twice - on 28 February 1990 and 5 March 1990. Katayev's notes are a bit cryptic on these tests, but he noted that both tests were conducted "without separation" and mentions "70-80 km altitude." The vehicles flew to Kamchatka. Additional flight tests, including ones "with separation," were planned, but it looks like the first two flights were the last ones for some time.
The tests were resumed in the 2000s. We know that the strategic exercise on 18 February 2004 included a test of a UR-100NUTTH missile that flew from Baykonur to Kamchatka. This was later identified as a test of the new "hypersonic vehicle". It might not be the same Albatross that was flown in 1990, but it's probably related. As it turns out, there must have been a test in 2001, probably in June, although it went unannounced at the time. More reports of new tests appeared in 2011 - a new warhead was tested on a UR-100NUTTH missile on 27 December 2011 and I was told that it was related to the "hypersonic" project. The program was apparently alive and well.
More details appeared about a year ago, thanks to Alexander Stukalin, who found a number of interesting documents that mention Project 4202 and construction activity at the Object 370 at the Dombarovskiy missile base. At that point it was not quite clear what Project 4202 is and whether it is related to Object 370. Everything pointed to a new payload that will be carried by a UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile, even though the evidence was somewhat circumstantial. But now we have some new documents (you've guessed who found them) that link together quite a few elements of the project.
A working document of the Central Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building (TsKBTM) describes "fueling of the A35-71 [missile] with propellant components during tests at the Object 370 conducted as part of the work on Project 4202." This is a fairly direct evidence of the link between Project 4202 and Object 370. Also, the document refers to a contract signed in March 2009 - apparently Project 4202 was formally started around that time.
Unfortunately, the exact location of Object 370 remains somewhat elusive. We know that it's at Dombarovskiy, but the satellite imagery there is rather old - there is nothing after 2009. There are a few good Panoramio photos from May 2013 that show some serious construction at an old command center (51°3'42"N 59°36'30"E) and at some other silos, but these are a bit farther from Yasnyy than Object 370 (which is about 7 km from the city).
At the same time, the silo at 51.093482° 59.844589°, which is adjacent to a command center, seems to be a good candidate for Object 370.
There is one more link between Project 4202 and the UR-100NUTTH missile - in June 2014 the KBKhA Design Bureau placed an order to explore the extension of service life of rocket engines used in the UR-100NUTTH missile to 42 years. The assignment explicitly said that the extension is done as part of another project - extension of service life of the 15S300-4202 system. Since 15S300 is the designation for the 15A35/UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile without the payload section, it's reasonable to assume that 15S300-4202 is that missile adapted for Project 4202. As we can see from this order, the missiles that will be used in the new system are rather old - I don't think any UR-100NUTTH were produced after 1984 - but the engines have been kept dry all these years, so they must have aged gracefully.
The payload, which apparently includes that "space head section" (the suspected "hypersonic" vehicle) is designated 15Yu71 (15Ю71, see the discussion and links in comments). It looks like that production of the 15Yu71 (or at least some of its key components) will begin in 2015. By that time the infrastructure at the Dombarovskiy site should be fully ready.
Indeed, it's quite possible that the Dombarovskiy site was used for a flight test of the new system already - there was a report about an unsuccessful test of a "hypersonic vehicle" that took place in September 2013. The report was contested, but I think I have fairly strong evidence that there was indeed a test. Whether the missile was launched from Dombarovskiy is rather difficult to say, but I would not rule it out.
So, the bottom line is that Russia is fully in the "hypersonic race", although we may have to wait a year or two before we see the fruits of the Project 4202.
Russia has started an upgrade of the Neman-P radar located at the Sary-Shagan test site. The radar (see the map below) was designed in the late 1960s by one of the three competing missile defense projects (the other two being the A-35 and a project that eventually became A-135).
At the time, Neman, was promoted as a radar that could provide better target discrimination capability than its competitors. The pilot radar that was built in Sary-Shagan, Neman-P, apparently has been used in various tests of ballistic missile reentry vehicles launched from Kapustin Yar. It probably began operations in 1981 and has been used in this role ever since.
It's probably a stretch, but it may be that the change is related to some lingering doubts about Bulava - in the original plan the launch was supposed to be part of Vladimir Monomakh state trials, rather than a test of the missile. Switching to Yury Dolgorukiy is a way to test the missile, not a submarine.
UPDATE 09/09/2014: Reports say it's Vladimir Monomakh after all.
Deployment of RS-24 Yars ICBMs seems to be going according to the plan. Back in November 2013 the Rocket Forces expected that in 2014 they will add 22 missiles to the 33 that they appeared to have in 2013.
Russian press reports quote the official representative of the ministry of defense as saying that RS-24 deployment is underway in five missile regiments. One of them is the regiment of silo-based missiles in Kozelsk. According to the report, all the supporting equipment has been deployed and two missiles have been already installed in silos.
A silo regiment will eventually include 10 missiles, while four road-mobile regiments are likely to get one battalion (consisting of three missiles) each, adding up to 22 missiles total. There is a small chance that the deployment rate has been dramatically accelerated and the four regiments are getting more than three missiles each, but it's somewhat unlikely. In fact, the deployment is already behind the schedule - the first Kozelsk regiment was originally expected to enter service in 2013.
UPDATE: As it turns out, the silo-based RS-24 is even further behind the schedule than I thought - only four silo-based missiles will be deployed by the end of the year, not a full regiment of ten missiles. The total may still stand at 22 if the Rocket Forces are planning to deploy 18 road-mobile RS-24 this year.