In Vilyuchinsk, Vladimir Monomakh joins another Project 955 submarine, Alexander Nevskiy, which arrived there in September 2015, and older Project 667BDR/Delta III submarines, which are still active despite their old age.
Vilyuchinsk is expected to become the primary base for Project 955 submarines. The lead ship of this class, Yuri Dolgorukiy, will probably stay with the Northern Fleet, but other submarines will be transferred to the Pacific. In anticipation of their arrival, Russia is building new missile loading pier (shown above on an image from the Army-2016 exhibit taken by Mikhail Zherdev) as well as new weapon storage site, described by Hans Kristensen.
The information department of the ministry of defense quotes the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Sergey Karakayev, as saying that RS-24 Yars missiles will soon be deployed in Bologoye division, also referred to by its treaty name Vypolzovo or as the 7th guards missile division. According to Karakayev, one of the Topol regiments has just completed its final exercise (of which the September 9 launch appears to be a part. UPDATE: Or maybe not. There was another exercise). He seems to suggest that after the exercise all Topol missile have been withdrawn from service.
There are two active regiments in the 7th division - the 41st missile regiment (57.86305, 33.65167, в\ч 14264, 1-й полк) and the 510th missile regiment (57.78825, 33.86542, в\ч 52642, 2-й полк). It is reasonable to assume that both will receive new Yars missiles. Unless, of course, the old report about possible deployment of RS-26 in Vypolzovo turns out to be true. The source of that report was not particularly reliable, but nothing that Karakayev said rules out this possibility (or confirms it, for that matter).
Karakayev also said that in 2016 the conversion to RS-24 Yars began in Irkutsk and Yoshkar-Ola divisions and was almost completed in Novosibirsk and Nizhniy Tagil. It has been fully completed in Teykovo.
Indeed, the work in Nizhniy Tagil can be now seen on satellite images. If it is "almost completed," then it's possible that the conversion will stop after three regiments there received Yars missiles. We will see.
In the Novosibirsk division, the 428th regiment (55.31046,83.02408, в\ч 44197, 13 площадка) is known to be converted. The 382nd regiment site (55.31745, 83.16841, в\ч 44238, 21 площадка) looks like there is some construction there underway (and indeed, there is a paper trail of construction activity), so it's one more regiment to be converted. As of May 2016, there were no signs of activity at the 357th regiment site (55.32551, 82.94215, в\ч 54097, 12 площадка), so it's possible that this regiment will not receive Yars missiles (remember, Karakayev said the conversion is almost completed).
In Irkutsk, there is no visible activity at either of the three bases that are believed to be active, so if RS-24 Yars are deployed there, they are using the old Topol shelters and garages. In fact, Karakayev hinted in his interview that this might be possible. If this is the case, Yars is probably deployed at with the two regiments that had their shelters in place as recently as
September 2014 March 2016 and May 2015June 2016 - respectively the 344th missile regiment (52.66944, 104.51972, в\ч 52933, 2-й полк) and the 586th missile regiment (52.55167, 104.15861, в\ч 52009, 3-й полк). The 92nd missile regiment (52.50861, 104.39333, в\ч 48409, 1-й полк) has no shelters since at least 2012, so it is unlikely that there are any missiles deployed there. Of course, one theory is that this regiment will be the first to receive RS-26 Rubezh missiles (which probably will not happen until 2017).
Finally, Yoshkar-Ola. None of the images of the 290th missile regiment (56.83194, 48.24083, в\ч 93876, площадка 1к) -- Google Earth has one from 2014, there are some reasonably recent images on Yandex and Bing -- show activity there. However, we wouldn't see anything if the conversion just started in 2016. Situation at the other two active sites -- the 779th missile regiment (56.5825, 48.15472, в\ч 69795, 1 площадка) and the 697th missile regiment (56.56, 48.21528, в\ч 48404, 16 площадка) -- is the same. It may be, however, that the RS-24 base will be built at a new place - Spetsstroy documents mention "3 ploshadka". Images in the area, however, are mostly from 2014, so we cannot see the most recent construction. (UPDATE: For these two TerraServer has images from August 2015 - there is nothing there.)
The only division not affected by conversion yet is the 35th missile division in Barnaul. All its four regiments (described earlier) appear to be operational.
Recently updated Google Earth images show that the Strategic Rocket Forces recently received a new base for RD-24 Yars missiles that are deployed with the 42nd missile division in Nizhniy Tagil. The site is the base of the 804th regiment (58.13748, 60.53811, в\ч 9430, 11 площадка). The most recent image was taken on 5 May 2016.
The new base answers the question of where did all the Yars missiles deployed in Nizhniy Tagil in 2013 and in 2014 go. Some were deployed at the base built at the "21st ploshchadka", the home of the 308th regiment (it was said to have been disbanded in 2004, though). But there was also good evidence that the 804th regiment received Yars missiles as well. However, the images taken at the site in June-September 2014 showed dismantled shelters, but no new construction. They must have waited in a shelter somewhere.
It appears that at least one more Yars base will be built in Nizhniy Tagil - at the 142nd regiment base (58.19598, 60.58049, в\ч 73795, 5 площадка). There is a paper trail of construction activity there and the May 2016 images show that all shelters have been dismantled (they were in place in 2014).
Other two bases in Nizhniy Tagil - 617th regiment (58.080077, 60.211, в\ч 12830, 12 площадка) and 433rd regiment (58.10153, 60.35971, в\ч 19972, 1 площадка) - do not seem to see any new construction yet. The 617th regiment was reportedly disbanded in 2008, but as we can see with the 21 ploshchadka, this doesn't necessarily mean the old base cannot be used for new construction.
There is a big crater somewhere in the Pinezhsky District of Arkhangelsk oblast. That's about 200 km downrange from the Plesetsk test site. According to eyewitness accounts published in the local press, the crater appeared after an explosion that was heard around noon on August 25, 2016. This is how the area looks like:
It's not Tunguska, of course, but the explosion seems to have been very powerful. The crater is also quite big. There are actually two craters, and the size of the larger one is more than 100 meters. In fact, it can be seen from space:
Since the explosion point is not that far from Plesetsk, it was natural to suggest that it was some kind of a launch failure. A local civil defense official confirmed that it was in fact "a stage of a missile/rocket launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome." Given that there was no attempt to cordon off the area, it was a relatively harmless solid-propellant motor, which very much rules out a space launch (or such exotic versions as an early test of a Sarmat missile). Other intriguing possibilities have been mentioned - a Nudol ASAT test for example (which in fact failed once in 2015). However, the impact point is so close to the path from Plesetsk to Kura, there is little doubt it was a launch of an ICBM.
Indeed, I have it on good authority that the missile that failed in the August 25 launch was RS-24 Yars. No official confirmation yet, but I hope we will hear more about the test in the coming days. One thing that would be interesting to learn is the failure mode - as far as I can tell, it is somewhat unusual for a missile to fail and land 200 km downrange. To land there, the missile must have failed fairly early in flight, in which case it should have been destroyed by range safety. Apparently it wasn't.
In any event, a failure of RS-24 Yars in what appears to be a routine test cannot be a good news for the Strategic Rocket Forces. The Topol-M/Yars missile has been a very reliable machine so far and I don't think it ever failed in a flight test before. It's just one failed test, of course, but it will raise questions about reliability of the system that is on its way to becoming the main ICBM in the Russian arsenal.
On September 9, 2016 the Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a successful launch of a Topol/SS-25 ICBM from the Plesetsk test site. According to the Ministry of Defense statement (on Facebook!), the warhead reached its designated target at the Kamchatka Peninsula. The launch was part of a Strategic Rocket Forces exercise.
One of the objectives of the test, along with "confirmation of the technical characteristics of the missile," was a test of prospective combat payload and missile defense penetration aids." This is somewhat unusual, for normally tests of this kind are conducted along the Kapustin Yar-Sary Shagan corridor (the most recent one took place in December 2015).
The construction of the early-warning radar in Vorkuta that began in September 2015 has made enough progress to be visible from space. Sean O'Connor located the radar site on a June 2016 Google Earth image. Click on the image above to see the radar on Google Maps.
Construction of the new early-warning radar at the Olenegorsk site began in the spring of 2016. At this point it's just a hole in the ground and the flat terrain makes geolocation rather difficult. But the new site is probably not far from the old Dnepr/Daugava site.
This is probably the last in the series of new early-warning radars that Russia will build in the coming years. At least that was the plan in 2013. It appears that the new Olenegorsk radar will be of the Voronezh-VP type, similar to those built in Mishelevka and Vorkuta.
Vladimir Monomakh, the third submarine of the Project 955 class, is said to have left its temporary base in Severomorsk to begin transfer to the Pacific. It is expected to reach its permanent base in Vilyuchinsk in September. There, Vladimir Monomakh will join another Project 955 submarine, Alexander Nevskiy, which completed the transfer in September 2015. (Check Hans Kristensen's excellent post on the upgrades done at Vilyuchinsk.)
Vladimir Monomakh was expected to conduct a salvo launch of Bulava missiles in June 2016, but it has left without launching the missiles. It is possible that it will launch the missiles from the Pacific, but maybe it won't - at the time Alexander Nevskiy arrived in the Pacific it was reported that it will conduct a launch from there, but it didn't.
On 5 July 2016, Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets, a Project 66BDR/Delta III class submarine, returned to its base in Vilyuchinsk after a combat patrol.
It is quite remarkable that these submarines are still in service--K-433 Sv. Georgiy Pobedonosets was accepted for service 1980, so it is 36 years old. Even accounting for the fact that she spent most of its service life at a pier, she is an old submarine. The R-29R missiles are getting old too, of course, but they are probably replaced regularly. The Soviet Union produced a lot of SLBMs, so Russia will not run out of missiles for quite some time. We know that there were 4.3 missiles produced for each R-29R launcher, so at some point Russia had almost 1000 missiles of this type. Even though several hundred were probably expended in flight tests over the years, it should be possible to find enough missiles to put on the three Project 667BDR submarines that still remain in service. And they seem to be in good shape - K-223 Podolsk launched its R-29R missile during the exercise in October 2015.
Delta III submarines will probably retire after new Project 955 Borey submarines take their place in the Pacific. But there are plans to keep at least some old submarines in service -- Ryazan has been undergoing overhaul and will return to the fleet in some capacity.
The first tests of the Sarmat ICBM is now said to be postponed until the end of 2016. The report quotes an unnamed source in the industry as saying that the reason for the delay is a problem discovered during engine firing tests. In any event, first tests will not involve actual flight - these are pop-up tests to check the silo cold start sequence.
The ministry of defense initially planned to begin Sarmat tests in 2015. That didn't happen, reportedly because of the transfer of the tests from Baykonur to Plesetsk. Since Plesetsk didn't have a silo that would be immediately ready to accept the new missile, that led to another delay - to the second half of 2016. (It is still not clear, by the way, which silo will be used for Sarmat tests.) But now the delay appears to have something to do with the missile.