The on-and-off rail-mobile ICBM program seems to be going forward after all, although rather slowly. Although it was said to be suspended in April 2016, it showed signs of life that culminated in what is said to be an ejection test in November 2016. Now a source in the industry telling the Russian press that the flight tests of the missile will begin in 2019.
The Sarmat program that is expected to produce a new "heavy" ICBM, appears to have hit some kind of a bump. Of course, it's hard to know it for certain--these things don't get a lot of coverage--but there are a few signs that may suggest that the program is in some kind of trouble.
The first sign was the delay with be first ejection tests--they were moved from 2015to the end of 2016 and now to 2017 (for all we know, this may be the end of 2017). The delay was sort of explained by a problem with the test silo, but that explanation never sounded very convincing.
Another sign is something Shoygu said when he visited Krasmash earlier this month. He promised that the ministry of defense will demand weekly reports on the progress with development of "prospective strategic missile systems" that are built at Krasmash. The idea, he said, is to check that the project meets the milestones that were set at the end of 2016, when these milestones were adjusted. That's pretty harsh and looks like an extraordinary measure to me.
This is all circumstantial, but it does appear that the tests of Sarmat were supposed to begin at the end of 2016, but had to be moved to 2017 for reasons that have nothing to do with the test silo. Something may not be working at Krasmash.
On January 16, 2017, the Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful flight test of a silo-based Topol-M (SS-27) missile. The missile was launched from a silo at the Plesetsk test site, the warhead was said to have reached its target at the Kura site in Kamchatka. According to the official statement, the purpose of the launch was "to confirm stability of flight and technical characteristics of ICBMs of this type."
This is the first of "about ten launches" that the Strategic Rocket Forces plan to conduct this year.
It has been a while since a Topol-M missile was tested from a silo. The previous test was in November 2014.
According to the Russian defense minister, three new early-warning radars will begin combat operations in 2017 - Orsk, Barnaul, and Yeniseisk. In addition, three radars--Baranovichi, Murmansk, and Pechora--have been "upgraded."
The Daryal radar in Pechora is even older - it's one of the two original Daryal radars built in the 1970s. It will be eventually replaced by the new radar in Vorkuta (it appears that two radars are being built there - Voronezh-SM/77Ya-SM/77Я6-СМ and Voronezh-VP/77Ya-VP/77Я6-ВП).
What Shoygu called the Murmansk radar is the old Dnepr/Daugava pair in Olenegorsk. Construction of new radar, probably of the Voronezh-VP kind, began there earlier this year.
As we can see, the upgrade of the early-warning radar network has been a very successful program. The space segment of the early-warning system, in contrast, appears to be behind the schedule. The old US-KS/US-KMO system ended operations in 2014. The first and only satellite of the new EKS system, Tundra, was launched in November 2015. It appears to be undergoing tests. The new armament program calls for deployment of ten satellites of the EKS system by 2020, but this plan does not seem particularly realistic. It should be noted, however, that for Russia the space-based segment of the early-warning system is not as as critical as for the United States, since it could never really rely on the "dual phenomenology" approach adopted by the United States. This is illustrated on this figure from my old article:
It shows that in some scenarios (SLBMs launched from the Atlantic), satellites don't add much to the warning time. And in any event, since Russia doesn't have forward-deployed radars, the radar warning comes to late to provide a useful check of the satellite information. To deal with the situation, the Soviet Union developed a different mechanism that allowed it to wait for signs of the actual attack (such as nuclear explosions) before launching its missiles. The arrangement is often referred to as the Dead Hand, since it does involve a certain predelegation of authority as well as the mechanism that ensures that decapitation does not prevent retaliation. The system, however, is not automatic (that idea was nixed in the 1980s) and requires humans to be involved in the decision to launch.
On December 23, 2016 the Sevmash ship-building plant started construction of the eighth Project 955 Borey ballistic missile submarine (or, rather, starting from the fourth submarine, Project 955A Borey A). As was reported earlier, the submarine was named Knyaz Pozharsky.
This is supposed to be the final submarine of the Project 955/955A series. Three ships of this class are currently in service - Yury Dolgoruky (Northern Fleet), Alexander Nevskiy, and Vladimir Monomakh (pacific Fleet).
The seventh submarine of this class, Imperator Alexander III, was laid down in December 2015.
Oleg Kuleshov has a nice set of photos from the ceremony.
According to Bill Gertz's report in Free Beacon, Russia conducted its fifth test of the Nudol ASAT interceptor, now designated PL-19, on December 16, 2016. The Pentagon believes that it was the third successful test of the system.
UPDATE: I missed what's probably the most important part of the test - the interceptor was launched "from a base in central Russia" and not from Plesetsk. Is that Kapustin Yar? I'm not sure it would qualify as "central Russia." But there are few other options.
The commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Sergey Karakayev, told journalists that in 2016 his service received everything necessary for deployment of 23 RS-24 Yars missiles, both silo-based and road-mobile. The missiles were deployed with five regiments: road-mobile in Yoshkar-Ola, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, and Nizhniy Tagil divisions; silo-based - in Kozelsk.
One regiment in Kozelsk already had ten missiles at the end of 2015, so the silo-based regiment that received missiles in 2016 was the second one that is converted to Yars.
Yandex has an image of the construction at some of the silos of the 74th missile regiment (only three silos are within the image, though - 53.884405, 35.726630, 53.826322, 35.700417, 53.776191, 35.694036). I am not sure if that's the first or the second Yars regiment there. Probably the second. Back in the early 2016, Spetstroy reported that it converting ten additional silos in Kozelsk, two of which were expected to be ready by the end of the year. So, most likely there were two missiles that were deployed in silos in 2016.
This leaves 21 road-mobile missiles that went to four regiments in Yoshkar-Ola, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, and Nizhniy Tagil.
Back in December 2015, I estimated that there were 21 Yars missiles in Novosibirsk. If that estimate is correct, then it is reasonable to assume that the Novosibirsk division received 6 new missiles in 2016, bringing the total to 27 in its three regiments that are still active.
This leaves 12 missiles to be divided between Irkutsk and Yoshkar-Ola. Irkutsk division has three active regiments and there is some activity there. It was reported that in 2016 one of the regiments received Yars missiles for "test combat service" ("опытное боевое дежурство"). This means that it may have received only three new Yars missiles, but it could be six as well.
As for Yoshkar-Ola, a video released by Zvezda TV suggests that the missiles went to the 779 regiment (Yubileinyy, 56.582595, 48.155083). It is entirely possible that it now has one complete regiment of nine missiles (if there are three in Irkutsk). Or it may have an incomplete regiment with six missiles.
With 23 new missile deployed in 2016, the total number of RS-24 Yars ICBMs is now 96. Of these, 84 are road-mobile and 12 are silo-based.
It became a tradition - each December the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces tells about the service's plan to conduct so many missile launches only to report a year later that the actual number of launches was about half of what was projected (the chart prepared by Slon.ru last year is still online). This year was not an exception - according to a December 2015 statement, the Rocket Forces were planning to conduct 16 ICBM launches - two for life extension and 14 as part of various development programs.
The actual number of launches was six. Four of them were said to be development launches, one - a life extension launch, and one - a combat training launch.
The life extension launch was probably the Topol launch in October 2016 - it was declared as such. The combat-training one was probably the Topol launch in September 2016, which took place during an exercise. It was also said to be a "test of prospective combat payload and missile defense penetration aids," but it's unlikely that it is in the development category.
What were the other two launches? The only two known events that could be interpreted as missile launches are the mysterious failure in September 2016 and the reported ejection test of the Barguzin rail-mobile missile in November. I have my doubts, though - the failed launch was never really confirmed and I am not sure an ejection test would qualify as a launch. We know that the Rocket Forces were planning an RS-26 launch in 2016-2017 and it was at some point expected to take place in the second half of the year, but there were no signs of this actually happening. So, it is a question mark next to two 2016 launches at this point.
The plan for 2017 is to have "about ten" or "more than ten" - different reports quote Karakayev differently - launches. There is no breakdown by categories this time, though.
UPDATE: There were two Rockot launches in 2016 - on 16 February 2016 (Sentinel-3A satellite) and on 4 June 2016 (Cosmos-2517 Geo-IK-2 satellite). Since Rockot is a converted UR-100NUTTH missile, these would probably qualify as Strategic Rocket Forces launches.
The eighth strategic missile submarine of the Project 955 Borey class will be laid down in December 2016, as originally planned. The submarine will be named Knyaz Pozharsky, after Dmitry Pozharsky, who led (with Kuzma Minin) Russian forces against Polish invaders in 1611-1612, at the Time of Troubles. The submarine is expected to begin service in 2021.
If everything goes according to the plan, Knyaz Pozharsky will be the last submarine in the Project 955 line. The seventh submarine of this class, Imperator Alexander III, was laid down in December 2015.
Russia appears to have conducted the first test of the Barguzin rail-mobile missile in Plesetsk some time in the last week. The first report about the test appeared in a somewhat dubious publication (via Military.ru), it was largely confirmed by a number of other sources. There is no official confirmation, though.
It appears to be an "ejection test," which tested the mechanism of the missile leaving its launch container (presumably mounted on a rail car, although it is not clear if this test involved an actual rail car). It is still rather far from a working missile, but it's a step in that direction.
The Barguzin program has a difficult history. It was given a green light in 2014, but then was reported to be suspended. The industry pressed on with "elements of the system" and indeed Yuri Solomonov, the Chief Designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT) promised back in May that the first ejection test will take place "in the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2016."
This wold be somewhat unusual, but hardly unprecedented for the industry to continue with the development even if the prospect for the ministry of defense's ordering the system are quite uncertain. MITT probably counts on getting an order after all.
UPDATE 11/04/2016: An anonymous "knowledgeable" source told Interfax that there was no launch from Plesetsk in the past few days. However, the source did confirm that the ejection test will take place before the end of the year.
UPDATE 11/22/2016: General Yesin told Defence.ru that there was a test in Plesetsk in early November and that the results were "acceptable." According to Yesin, it was an ejection test from a rail-mounted TEL.