As it turns out, there is more information about the Project 4202 test record than I knew existed. A Twitter post drew my attention to a very detailed table of Soviet/Russian launches that Jonathan McDowell keeps on his planet4589.org site. The table has an unusual amount of detail in that it includes serial numbers of launchers. (Jonathan also maintains a master list of all launches, which includes those for which serial numbers may not be available.)
In the list, the Project 4202-related launches are designated 15A35P, after a modification of the 15A35 UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile. There are nine tests of this type in the table and in general the details correspond to the information collected from other sources (note that I corrected a couple of dates in that table). There are important additions as well, but there are interesting differences and omissions. Below is a combined table that shows all known and suspected tests related to the program.
|28 Feb 1990||28 Feb 1990|
|29 Mar 1990||5 Mar 1990||The same test. March 5 appears to be a mistake|
|26 Nov 1991|
|28 Jul 1992|
|27 Jun 2001||27 Jun 2001|
|18 Feb 2004||18 Feb 2004|
|27 Dec 2011||27 Dec 2011|
|27 Sep 2013||Considered confirmed|
|Sep 2014?||Not confirmed|
|26 Feb 2015||26 Feb 2015|
|19 Apr 2016||19 Apr 2016|
First, there is a puzzle of the second test in 1990. I assume that the date March 5, 1990 is incorrect. The "serial numbers" table is very detailed, so it is highly unlikely that it got the date wrong. March 5th also comes from a fairly reliable source - one of the documents in the Katayev archive. The document says two test had taken place - on February 28 and March 5 [sic]. I think it is entirely possible that the date got corrupted somewhere in the process and the correct date is indeed March 29. Besides, I always suspected that there is something wrong with having two tests that close together - less than a week. So, March 29, 1990 it is.
The August 1990 meeting also discussed an upcoming test, this time "with separation" [of the vehicle from booster]. Everything was supposed to be ready by October 1990, but it appears that the launch was postponed and that third test took place in November 1991. The Soviet Union broke down shortly after that, but the program apparently had enough inertia in it to carry out a fourth test in July 1992. Then the program froze for almost ten years.
The launches were resumed in 2001 and it appears that the next three tests are identified correctly. Then, the "serial numbers" table has nothing in September 2013, while I am fairly certain that the test did take place. (UPDATE: It is also on Jonathan McDowell's complete list, on September 27) The 2014 test has a much bigger question mark next to it. The evidence is rather circumstantial, so unless there is a reliable confirmation of the launch, it should probably remain there as unconfirmed.
After making a splash in November, the Status-6 underwater drone has almost completely disappeared from the news. Probably for a good reason - the story looked like a deliberate fake from the beginning. And by all indications it was. Moreover, it appears that the appearance of that Status-6 slide on TV was an elaborate ploy that had something to do with an obscure internal power struggle in the Russian ministry of defense. Details are elusive and not particularly important, but the word is that the episode did result in some very high-level MoD officials being interrogated at Lefortovo regarding the alleged breach of security. Nothing came out of it, however.
That does not necessarily mean, however, that there is nothing behind the story. In February, a Russian newspaper published an article that mentioned Status-6 and included a photo that shows something that looks very much as a container that can house the drone on the slide:
The caption says that it's a mockup of a "Skif self-propelled underwater vehicle." The article also has some interesting information about the project (although, as always, some skepticism is advised). It says that tests of the vehicle began the fall of 2008 and it is expected to be ready for deployment in 2019-2023. We still have time to figure it out.
Shortly after that publication, a reader sent me a link to another photo, which shows the container from a much closer distance:
As I understand, there is nothing inside yet - it's a mockup of the real thing. But the photo appears to have been taken in 2009, so the program may have made some advances since then.
Speaking of timing, Rose Gottemoeller was asked at the hearings back in December 2015 if the United States was aware of the Status-6 when it was negotiating the New START treaty. She said "unequivocally no." Which is interesting - on the 2009 photo the mockup seems pretty beat-up, so it had been hauled around for some time. Someone must have seen something.
One of the Russian newspapers, MK, quotes its unnamed sources as saying that Russia conducted a flight test of a "hypersonic warhead" earlier this week (apparently on April 19). The missile carrying the warhead was launched from the Dombarovsky site. The test is said to be successful.
If the reports are correct, this is probably the test of the Project 4202 vehicle that was expected to take place in 2016-2017. It would be interesting to see if there will be an official announcement of the test or if further confirmation from industry sources.
UPDATE: Now mainstream media (Interfax) confirm the story and say that the test took place on Tuesday, April 19. As expected, the UR-100NUTTH/RS-18/SS-19 missile was used to carry the vehicle.
UPDATE: This announcement, which closed the road between Yasnyy and Akzharskoye at the time of the test, suggests that the silo that is used for Project 4202 launches is located to the west of Yasnny, not to the east, as was suggested in the Jane's article. There are several silos there, but the one at 51°03'42.0"N 59°36'30.0"E seems a good candidate (see photo of the construction there I posted earlier).
Big changes are coming to the 29th Guards Missile Division in Irkutsk. Right now the division includes three SS-25/Topol regiments, all of which appear to be operational. However, by the end of 2016, the division is expected to receive its first regiment of RS-24 Yars missiles. Moreover, the plan is to increase the number of regiments back to four - two will operate RS-24 Yars and two - RS-26 Rubezh.
Deployment of RS-26 Rubezh in Irkutsk has been expected for some time now - the initial plan was to begin deployment in 2015, but then the date was changed to 2016. Given that the recent reports don't mention RS-26 in 2016, it is quite possible that the deployment of first missiles of this type has been moved even further "to the right" - at least to 2017. The missile was said to be fully tested and ready for deployment more than a year ago. But maybe not quite - a test launch of RS-26 is scheduled for the second quarter of the year 2016.
UNIDIR is looking for a researcher to run a project on tactical nuclear weapons. Here is the formal announcement at Insipra, the UN web site. I've had a few people contacting me already with questions, so I thought it would make sense to say a few words about the project.
It's no secret that this is not a great time to discuss arms control in general and for measures to address tactical nuclear weapons in Europe in particular. So, the project will not try to suggest any specific steps that would help restart the dialogue between Russia and NATO. That would take much more than a research project, at UNIDIR or elsewhere.
What we will try to do at UNIDIR is to look at some ideas on how to deal with tactical nuclear weapons when we eventually get to the point of discussing them. The general outline of the approach is, in fact, not very controversial - any agreement would probably consolidate all these weapons in some storage facilities. Where these facilities might be is a matter of dispute - Russia wants them on national territories, NATO wants them away from its borders - but it's a political, not substantive dispute. Then, there would have to be a way of verifying that these weapons are there.
There is a question of numbers as well. One of the ideas that is quite popular in Washington is that there would have to be some common ceiling for all weapons - strategic and not - so each country is free to choose its own mix. Specific numbers that are mentioned are somewhere around 2500-3000 total warheads. I don't think it's a good idea (to put it mildly), especially if you notice that we already have this ceiling - 1550 operationally deployed warheads in New START. Yes, this treaty does not deal with non-strategic weapons, but if you take its definitions, we are pretty close to having zero deployed non-strategic warheads (it's a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea).
So, one of the main ideas of the UNIDIR project is to see if you can use the New START provisions to deal with non-strategic weapons. That would range from New START definitions to its verification and inspection provisions. As my colleagues and I demonstrated before, New START is a very powerful instrument that can be used, for example, to extend transparency provisions to arsenals of all nuclear weapon states. I also tried to look at New START and non-strategic weapons in a paper, prepared for a APS-CSIS workshop in 2013. Read the paper to get a sense of my thoughts about where the project might go.
In practical terms, the project will involve looking at where weapon storage facilities are, getting a general sense of how one can conduct verification activities there, and identifying areas where New START provisions can be applied. This part of the work would probably require looking at satellite imagery. Knowledge of New START verification arrangements would be a considerable asset as well. Given the recent developments around cruise missiles, we will probably have to look into various approaches to, say, SLCM verification, which are technically not part of the START process. We then plan to have an expert meeting to discuss the ideas developed during the first stage of the project. And finally, the project will produce a report with its findings.
UNIDIR will definitely prefer someone working in Geneva full time, but we may have some flexibility for an exceptionally good candidate. The project will start as soon as practically possible. Feel free to write to me if you have any questions. However, if you want to apply, please use the UN site to do so.
The U.S. State Department released aggregate New START numbers from the 1 March 2016 data exchange. Russia declared 1735 deployed warheads, 521 deployed launchers, and 856 total launchers. In September 2015 the numbers were 1648, 526, and 877 respectively.
The increase of 87 deployed warheads is most likely due to the deployment of Bulava missiles on the Vladimir Monomakh submarine that was completed in April 2015. Some older missiles were apparently withdrawn from service.
The U.S. numbers in March 2016 were 1481 warheads, 741 deployed and 878 total launchers (1538, 762, and 898 in September 2015).
Back in December 2015, Bill Gertz reported on a "the first successful flight test of a new anti-satellite missile." According to Gertz's source in the Pentagon, the test, conducted on November 18, 2015, was a third (and the first successful) test of a system known as Nudol. It is said to be a direct-ascent ASAT system.
The name Nudol appeared a few times in various reports over the last few years, so it is not entirely new. This report says that parts of the Nudol project are carried out by the Novator design bureau in Ekaterinburg. Another suggests that Almaz-Antey acts as the lead developer and the missile is known as 14A042. (A search for "14А042" returns a link to a very interesting letter, but you have to know Russian to fully appreciate it. In brief, it's a colorful complaint about four bolts that didn't quite fit specifications.)
There is, in fact, an image to come with the name, although it is difficult to say how close this image is to the real thing.
There is not much more to report today beyond what Bill Gertz wrote in December. But there are a few interesting details. First, the system that is being tested in indeed Nudol. At this point, however, the tests do not involve a kill vehicle - these are tests of the launcher. Given the Novator role it is safe to assume that the launcher uses solid-propellant motors. The missiles are launched from the Plesetsk test site with burnout stages falling somewhere in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.
My summary of the status of the Strategic Rocket Forces shows no Topol missiles deployed in Irkutsk. That is apparently incorrect as reports about Topol activity there appear fairly regularly in the Russian press. For example, "about 20 Topol missiles" were reported to take part in an exercise that involved missile deployment.
On March 24, 2016, at 12:42 MSK (09:42 UTC), the Air and Space Forces carried out a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1a launcher from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk launch site. The satellite delivered into orbit is believed to be a digital cartographic satellite Bars-M.
According to an official statement, the satellite is designated Cosmos-2515. It was registered as object 41394 by NORAD and received international designation 2016-020A. On March 28, 2016 it was transferred to a sun-synchronous orbit (542 x 594 km x 97.6 deg).
The first Bars-M launch took place in February 2015.