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.

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.

The first test launch of the Bulava SLBM in 2014 will be conducted from the Yuri Dolgorikiy submarine, not from Vladimir Monomakh, as it was planned earlier.

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.

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.

The only information that we have had about the RS-26 deployment so far is a report quoting an unnamed source that said that the first regiment will be deployed in Irkutsk. Now there is a piece in VPK News that says that RS-26 will also be deployed with the 7th Guards Missile Division based in Vypolzovo. This source doesn't struck me as reliable, but it's an interesting data point.

UPDATE: It doesn't look like there is any activity in Vypolzovo that would suggest that the division expects deployment of any new missiles. Unlike Irkutsk, neither of the two regiments of the Vypolzovo division shows any signs of construction.

At the "Innovation Days of the Russian Ministry of Defense" the Makeyev Design Bureau (formally known as the Academician V.P.Makeyev State Rocket Centre, GRTs) presented one of its recent projects - a maneuvering re-entry vehicle (MARV).

MARV_Makeyev.png

The leaflet distributed by the GRTs (at the open part of the event), said that it's a "high-speed maneuvering [combat] re-entry vehicle for land-based and sea-based strategic missile systems." As one would expect, it's advertised as a way to defeat missile defenses by preforming "unpredictable maneuvers with high transverse accelerations." It apparently relies on aerodynamics to do those, as it can only deal with the "low-altitude" (i.e. terminal) defense. So, it's not the Project 4202 or whatever the hypersonic vehicle Russia may be working on.

This is nothing particularly new, since MARV technology has been around for decades and the last time it was clear that the cost (in terms of payload) is not worth the price of penetrating defenses, especially when those defenses are non-existent. Nothing has changed since then - the only terminal (strategic) missile defense is deployed around Moscow and dealing with that would hardly require a sophisticated MARV. Someone in the GRTs marketing department didn't quite do their homework.

The 2014 Compliance Report released by the U.S. State Department last week officially declared that the United States believes that "the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty." The report, however, provides no details about the specifics of the violation, leaving plenty of room for uncertainty. The story still have more questions than answers, so this post is an attempt to summarize what do we know about the alleged violation.

The little information that is available suggests that it is not related to the RS-26 ballistic missile, even though it looks like it's an intermediate-range missile that was tested once at a range that would qualify it as an ICBM. The missile will therefore be counted against the New START limits, so an argument can be made that the future RS-26 deployment will be limited by arms control obligations (unless we note that the limit will disappear once New START expires in 2021).

Instead, the current controversy seems to be centered at a "new ground-launched cruise missile." At least this is what the United States, according to a New York Times story, told its NATO allies at a briefing in January 2014.

Most reports immediately focused on the ground-launched cruise missile that is part of the Iskander system that Russia has been developing for some time. Iskander is a somewhat unusual weapon system that includes ballistic missile as well as cruise missile launchers (these systems are known as Iskander-M and Iskander-K respectively). So, it appears the the cruise missile of Iskander-K, identified as R-500, is the one that is causing all the problems. At least this is what Jeffrey Lewis of Armscontrolwonk.com and Hand Kristensen of FAS said in their posts on Russia's INF (non-)compliance. It's became a popular theory that invites a fairly straightforward political solution -- confront Russia about the violation and don't let it go until it confesses and reverses the course, just as Reagan did with the Krasnoyarsk radar and the ABM Treaty in the 1980s. Unfortunately, things seem to be a bit more complicated and a simple strategy may not work.

R-500
Let's start with the facts about R-500 and Iskander. The only reliable appearance made by a cruise missile named R-500 was the test on 29 May 2007. The missile was launched from the Kapustin Yar test site. MIlitaryrussia.ru has a nice collection of photos of the launch (which appear to be authentic - see a photo distributed by RIA Novosti). The photos are too grainy to provide any details, but we could tell that the missile is about 6 m in length and 0.5 m in diameter (The TEL truck, which is about 3 m high, provides a reference for the size of the missile):

R-500 and SS-N-21Since the missile is only 6 m long, it is not "very similar to the SS-N-21" as Hans Kristensen suggested in his post and the side-by-side comparison on the left is not entirely accurate. SS-N-21 SLCM and its ground-launched version, RK-55 Relief/SSC-X-4, are 8.09 m long. R-500 on the photo looks more like a different cruise missile, 3M14 Kalibr-M/Club-M, which is reported to be 6.2 m long (with the solid-propellant booster). The R-500 appears to have a slightly different TEL, but the launch containers of R-500 (top, shown as Iskander-K TEL in a 2009 photo) and Club-M (bottom) look very much alike, at least from the outside:

Iskander-K
Club-M

Club-M is part of a family cruise missiles that could be deployed in a variety of ways (the Club-K could famously fit into a standard shipping container). The sea-launched version of the missile can be deployed in standard 533-mm torpedo tubes. It's a sort-range missile, though -- the 3M14 is reported to have a range of 300 km (the domestic version may have a range of 500 km).

Since R-500 was touted as a new missile at the time of the May 2007 test, it would be reasonable to assume that it is somewhat different from 3M14, although it is not clear what's the difference is. One possibility is that it is integrated with the Iskander system that could include short-range ballistic missiles as well. It's tempting to suggest that R-500 has an extended range, but my guess is that it's unlikely - there is only so much one can do with a missile of a given size that has to carry a certain payload. Ted Postol and George Lewis at some point estimated that one can probably double the range in this case, but that would require significant advances in materials and propulsion. Given that 3M14 is a relatively new missile, it's somewhat unlikely that there is much room for improvement there. Also, if the big thing about R-500 is its integration with Iskander, then one would expect the ballistic and cruise missiles of the system to have a comparable range. On the other hand, older (but bigger and nuclear) RK-55 Relief/SSC-X-4 and SS-N-21 have a range of about 2500-3000 km, so one should not rule out that the R-500 has a range significantly over 500 km (although 2000 km is still unlikely). I'm very much open to suggestions and ideas on this point.

[UPDATE: As I expected, the range issue is not that simple. At least one report from 2012 quoted the commander of the Caspian Flotilla as saying that the conventional ship-based Kalibr-NK has a range of 2600 km. UPDATE: It looks like 2600 km is a range for a low-payload (i.e. nuclear) version of the missile. And probably for a larger missile.]

What's interesting is that the missile was eventually deployed with the Iskander-K system appears to be different from the R-500 tested in May 2007. At least it clearly has a different launch container:

Iskander
This is a photo taken in June 2013, when the industry delivered the first "complete set" of Iskander missiles to the military. It may not be obvious at a first glance, but the placement of outer rings on the Iskander-K container is different from the one on the 2009 version (see the photo above). This does not necessarily mean that the missile itself is different, but something has clearly changed since that 2007 launch. What is the same, though, is the size of the missile - the new container still appears to hold a missile that is about 6 m long - a longer container would not fit into the transporter bay.

Yet another version of the container appears on a photo taken in Luga in June 2014:

Iskander
This one appears to be longer, but a closer look suggests that the difference between this container and the one from June 2013 is an attachment on top (the one with an orange cap). Since this thing would presumably still have to fit into the 7 meter-long transporter bay, this may be a temporary attachment that protects the container during the loading operation. Or maybe not - it's hard to tell from the photo.

In fact, we don't really know if the cruise missile that allegedly violates the INF Treaty has anything to do with Iskander. Indeed, the little bits reported by the New York Times in January don't quite fit the Iskander theory. The NYT story said that "American officials believe Russia began conducting flight tests of the missile as early as 2008." Since the R-500 missile was tested in May 2007, it doesn't fit that description. It's possible, of course, that the missile in question is the modification of the missile that was eventually deployed with Iskander-K -- the different launch container would seem to point at this possibility. But the United States told NATO that in January 2014 the culprit GLCM had not been deployed yet -- this doesn't fit the fact that the first "complete set of Iskander" (with cruise missiles) was delivered to the military in June 2013. I wouldn't say that this information rules Iskander out, but in my view it strongly suggests that Iskander is the wrong place to look at.

An alternative explanation, floated some time ago, is that the violation is largely a technicality having to do with the fact that the INF Treaty requires that any missile that is not a GLCM covered by the treaty should be test-launched from a "fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from GLCM launchers." Strictly speaking, a test of a SLCM (with a range of more than 500 km) from a road-mobile launcher would mean that this SLCM would qualify as a GLCM and therefore will be a treaty violation. I have no direct evidence that would indicate that this explanation is correct, but it fits the facts much better than the Iskander/R-500 one.

The evidence is very much circumstantial at this point, but the reluctance of the U.S. administration to charge Russia with a violation suggests that the case is not exactly clear-cut. It probably would not have taken the United States three years to go open with the case had Russia tested a 2000 km-range missile several times (even though, admittedly, determining the range of a cruise missile is a tricky business). Then, unless the case has something to do with the launcher, I don't see why the administration would include a specific reference to that INF Treaty clause in its 2014 Compliance Report.

Also, even though Russia is hardly an exemplary law-abiding global citizen these days, I don't believe it would go ahead with a blatant and open violation of the INF Treaty conditions. Whatever complaints they may have about the treaty, the Russians are usually quite legalistic and would rather find a loophole than covertly break out of the treaty.

I know that people would point out that the story of the ABM Treaty and Krasnoyarsk radar to say that the Soviet Union did just that in the past. However, that story is a bit more complicated than it may appear. Even though the radar was not exactly treaty-compliant, the Soviet Union was fully prepared to defend it and to work with the United States to clarify the ABM Treaty terms (like "located on the periphery" or "pointed outwards") to make it so. The Soviet Union had a good case in its claim that the U.S. PAVE PAWS early-warning radar in Fylingdales, U.K. was a technical violation as well (the treaty allowed an upgrade of existing radars, while PAVE PAWS was built next to the old radar, so it didn't really qualify as an upgrade). The hope in the Soviet defense ministry was that the United States would trade the violations, especially since the radar in Krasnoyarsk was clearly an early-warning rather than a treaty-prohibited battle-management radar. The politics of the moment worked against the Soviet Union, though, and the Reagan administration correctly judged that the Soviet Union was not in the position to press its case or to negotiate.

This is not to say that the Obama administration was wrong in charging Russia with a violation, but its case may not be as impressive as the one that Reagan had in the 1980s -- it's one thing to point at a massive structure built in Siberia and quite another to debate fine points of interpretation of some obscure provisions of the treaty. My guess is that if it were not for the domestic pressure on Obama, he would much rather discuss this issue quietly.

As for why Russia would do a test like that, I could certainly imagine a situation when it needed a launcher for one of its SLCMs and the mobile launcher seemed like a best available option - since the launch tubes are standard, it's not an implausible scenario. The alternative would be to build a new fixed one and for whatever reason that wasn't practical.

As it often happens, the bottom line is that we don't have enough information to say anything definitive yet. I hope that as the story develops we will have more details. It well may be that the culprit is the Iskander cruise missile, but at this point my money is on a technicality.

On July 29, 2014 Sevmash Shipyard laid down fifth strategic submarine of the Project 955/Project 955A series.

The new submarine, Knyaz Oleg, is the second submarine of the Project 955A class. The first one, Knyaz Vladimir, was laid down in July 2012. These submarines will eventually join three Project 955 submarines - Yuri Dolgorukiy, Alexander Nevskiy, and Vladimir Monomakh.

Vladimir Monomakh just completed its state acceptance trials, which began in June 2014.

According to a report in Kommersant, Russia will launch a new-generation early-warning satellite, codenamed Tundra and identified as 14F142, by the end of 2014. The launch will begin deployment of a new system, EKS (Edinaya Kosmicheskaya Systema, Integrated Space System), which will provide early-warning as well as some other functions (probably space surveillance or, as some suggested, secure communication). Kommersant reports that the satellite will be delivered into orbit by a Soyuz-2.1b launcher with a Fregat booster stage. According to the report, the new system will have true look-down capability and will detect missiles launches originated from the sea as well as from the U.S. territory. Tundra will be deployed on a highly-elliptical orbit, but earlier reports suggested that the complete system could include geostationary satellites as well.

The flight tests of the EKS system were expected to begin in 2009, but it then slipped to 2011-2012. Now it looks like the system is finally ready for initial deployment.

EKS will replace satellites of the old US-KS and US-KMO systems - as of June 2014 only two 73D6 spacecraft of the US-KS (Oko) system, deployed on highly-elliptical orbits, were operational. The last 71Kh6 geostationary satellite of the US-KMO system was lost in March-April 2014.