The Russian media quotes a source in the military as saying that the flight of the first of the two Bulava missiles launched from Vladimir Monomakh submarine on November 14, 2015 did not hit its targets at the Kura test site. The source said that the warheads did reach "the Kamchatka region", but not the designated targets. This suggests that the miss was fairly large.
UPDATE: Reports say that the missile was not properly prepared for the flight and as a result was damaged as it was leaving the silo. This, in turn, placed the missile on a wrong trajectory. It's not quite clear what it means. It appears that there was some physical damage to the missile that the guidance system was not able to compensate, but that was still not significant enough to abort the flight.
Russian strategic bombers, Tu-95MS and Tu-160, took part in the Syria operation. According to the account of the operation given to the president by the military (see the video above at 5:10), the operation so far involved 5 Tu-160 bombers and 6 Tu-95MS (based in Engels), as well as 14 Tu-22M3 (based in Mozdok). The bombers (probably only Tu-160 and Tu-95) are said to have launched 34 long-range cruise missiles.
I may be wrong, but it well may be the very first use of Tu-95MS and Tu-160 in combat. Tu-22M3 bombers have been used before - in Afghanistan and in Georgia in 2008 (I'm not sure about Chechnya).
The whole thing is well worth watching. At some point (12:30) the president instructs the commander of the Moskva cruiser, deployed in the Mediterranean, to establish contact with the French aircraft carrier group and to "work with them as allies".
But what a weird setting, this war room! What's up with all these neat rows of officers in color-matched uniforms looking at their computers? Flowers add a nice touch too.
On November 17, 2015 at 15:12 MSK (12:12 UTC) the Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful launch of a Topol/SS-25 missile from the Kapustin Yar test site. According to the official statement, the purpose of the launch was "to test new combat payload for future ICBMs." The warhead was said to have successfully reached its target at the Sary-Shagan test range.
Previous Topol launch from Kapustin Yar took place in August 2015.
On November 17, 2015 at 09:34 MSK (06:34 UTC), the Air and Space Forces successfully launched a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk site. According to the official statement, the launcher carried "a new-generation satellite for the ministry of defense." The satellite is being delivered to the orbit by a Fregat booster.
UPDATE: The satellite is said to have successfully reached its nominal orbit and was designated Cosmos-2510. The international designation is 2015-066A. The satellite was registered by NORAD as object 41032. At this point the orbit is 1625 x 38551 km x 63.8 deg, which is similar to the old Oko/US-KS-type orbits - the satellite makes two revolutions a day.
The satellite is believed to be the first Tundra spacecraft of the new early-warning system, known as EKS. The satellite was earlier identified as 14F142. The program is several years behind the schedule - the first public statement about the program suggested that the first launch were to take place in 2009. It was reported that Tundra satellites will be deployed in highly-elliptical orbits, but the constellation might include geostationary satellites as well. UPDATE: According to the ministry of defense, the complete system will include ten satellites.
Tundra satellites and the EKS system are expected to replace satellites of the old US-KS and US-KMO systems. Russia lost all its early warning satellites in the spring of 2014.
UPDATE: The ministry of defense posted a video of the launch:
On November 14, 2015 the Vladimir Monomakh submarine of the Project 955 Borey class performed a successful launch of two Bulava missiles. The submarine was deployed in the White Sea for the launch. All missiles warheads are said to successfully reached their targets at the Kura test site in Kamchatka. UPDATE 11/19/15: Apparently not very successfully - warheads of the first missile failed to reach their targets.
This may have been the second attempt to carry out a salvo launch from Vladimir Monomakh. Preparations for a test were completed in September, but the submarine returned to the port without launching its missiles. Today's launch was announced earlier this week.
For Vladimir Monomakh it is the second test launch - the first one took place in September 2014. It is also the second two-missile salvo launch of Bulava - the first one was carried out in December 2011 from the lead Project 955 submarine, Yuri Dolgorukiy. After these launches Bulava has made 25 launches, of which 16 were successful.
On November 10, 2015 President Putin held a regular meeting with his generals in Sochi to discuss development of the Russian strategic forces. The president used the occasion to complain again about U.S. missile defense plans and to warn that Russia will do whatever it takes to preserve the strategic balance.
But that was not the most interesting part of the news story. One sharp observer (MJ) noticed that the camera took a peek at one of the documents prepared for the meetings (it is at 1:46 in the news story). It showed a summary of one of the projects that presumably were discussed at the meeting as part of the plan to restore that strategic balance that the U.S. missile defense system so blatantly undermines.
The project is called "Ocean Multipurpose System 'Status-6'" with the TsKB MT Rubin design bureau listed as the lead developer (Rubin is the design bureau that built virtually all submarines that are currently in service). A brief paragraph describes the mission of the proposed system as follows:
Damaging the important components of the adversary's economy in a coastal area and inflicting unacceptable damage to a country's territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.
The picture that follows shows that at the core of the weapon system is an underwater autonomous drone ("self-propelled underwater craft" or SPA), which could be delivered by one of the two submarines - Project 09852 or Project 09851. For some reason, the drone is shown as attached to the bottom of the 09852 submarine, but not to the 09851 [UPDATE: Colleagues tell me that the vehicle attached to the 09582 sub is not the drone pictured later on the slide]. The text is hard to read, but it appears that Project 09852 submarine will carry four drones and Project 09852 - either 3 or 6. Given that 09852 is a smaller submarine (its displacement is shown as "10000 t" vs. what looks like a larger number for 09852), it's probably 3. It certainly does not look like "1", although "2" is a possibility. [UPDATE: I am told that a better quality photo shows that the number is "6".]
Interestingly, these two submarines are relatively recent projects. Project 09852 was laid down at Sevmash in December 2012. It is said to use the hull of the Belgorod submarine of the Project 949A/Oscar II class. The first Project 09851 submarine, Khabarovsk, was laid down in July 2014. (Project 09851 was also mentioned in the R&D known as Kalitka-SMP.)
Again, the text is barely legible, but it appears that the drone would be able to travel at the depth of up to 1000 m at a fairly high speed (something like 105 km/h?). The range appears to be listed as 10000 km, which is a bit hard to believe, but this is what the slide says. The diameter ("caliber") of the drone appears to be more than 1 meter (probably 1.6 m), the general's hand hides the length of the device.
The drone appears to be nuclear-powered - the fourth compartment is marked "Reactor module". This would explain the range, I guess, although it would need some guidance system to find its way around.
Further down the list, there is a drawing of the system's components - command and control, support ships (non-nuclear submarine "Sarov" and some surface ship - Zvezdochka rescue ship I'm told), and something else that we cannot see.
Finally, the timeline at the bottom of the slide says that pilot system will be built by 2019, so the state tests can be conducted in 2019-2020.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this. First, it's an interesting security lapse. I know that quite a few people believe that the leak was intentional, but I don't think it's the case. Indeed, as I understand, the news organizations quickly removed the clip from their sites. On the other hand, Bill Getz did have a story about Russian underwater drone, Kanyon, two months ago. The name is different, but it appears to be more or less the system Gertz's Pentagon sources described. So, maybe Moscow decided that the leak would not be such a big deal. Still, they would have probably preferred to keep some details out of it.
As for the project itself, Russia is not the only country that is working on underwater drones. But the payload looks like a massive "dirty bomb", which strikes me as absolutely crazy. A number of people noted that the description does not necessarily exclude the possibility that the initial "damaging" can be done by a regular nuclear device. Which only makes this whole thing even more insane - do they think that a nuclear weapon on its own would not inflict "unacceptable damage"?
UPDATE 11/12/15: The story generated quite a buzz, which is probably what the authors of this whole thing counted on. The consensus that is emerging from a number of discussions is that the "leak" was intentional. Moreover, a colleague who follow these things quite closely made a strong case that the "drone" on the slide is probably just an enlarged (and modified) image of a "regular" torpedo (such as UGST). This would explain the unusually large "combat module" and a number of other inconsistencies. However, the rest of the slide seems real - the submarines, the Zvezdochka ship, etc. Indeed, it is quite possible that the project is real as well - the Soviet Union did work on an underwater vehicle like this in the 1980s (here is an interesting story, although I would take it with a pinch of salt). Specifically, some work has been done on the vehicle's nuclear reactor. The project was abandoned, of course, but these things rarely die. In fact, NITI in Sosnovy Bor is building a new facility to test liquid metal-cooled naval reactors. It is probably not related to this drone, but who knows.
Still, the whole thing strikes me as crazy regardless of whether the project is real or not. If it is real, I find it quite appalling that the ideas of this kind ever reach the level of a discussion with the president. If it is an attempt of high-level trolling, it's even worse - if people in the Kremlin believe it was a clever way of sending some kind of a signal, they probably lost all their marbles.
The Russian press quotes a source in the defense industry as saying that Project 955 Vladimir Monomakh submarine will conduct a launch of two Bulava missiles in the next few days (before November 16th). The missiles will be launched from the White Sea to the Kura test site in Kamchatka. According to the source, this will be the last Bulava launch in 2015.
Vladimir Monomakh probably tried to launch its missiles back in September - Russia issues a NOTAM warning and the submarine went to sea for several days, but nothing happened. Strictly speaking, we don't know if there was a plan to conduct a launch in September - earlier reports suggested that the test was scheduled for October-November. But it did look like a preparation for a test.
On 30 October 2015, Russia conducted a test of the command and control system that involved a number of strategic and non-strategic systems. As part of the exercise, K-117 Bryansk submarine of the Project 667BDRM/Delta IV-class launched a R-29RM missile from the Barents Sea. K-223 Podolsk submarine of the Project 667BDR/Delta III class launched a R-29R missile from the Sea of Okhotsk. The Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a launch of a Topol/SS-25 missile from Plesetsk, while the Tu-160 strategic bombers launched cruise missiles toward targets at the Pemboy and Kura test ranges. In addition, Velikiy Ustyug small missile ship launched a Kalibr cruise missile from the Kaspian Sea. The exercise also involved a launch of an Iskander cruise missile from Kapustin Yar.
A similar exercise was conducted in May 2014. The only difference is that in 2014 it included a launch of a missile defense interceptor and there were no cruise missile launches. Iskander did take part, but it launched its ballistic missile. In 2013, the exercise was conducted also on October 30.
For R-29R missile it was the first launch since May 2014. R-29RM missile was launched in November 2014, from Tula submarine. The previous Topol launch took place in August 2015, but it was a test of a new payload from Kapustin Yar. The last "regular" Topol launch from Plesetsk was last conducted in May 2014.
On October 28, 2015, the Strategic Rocket Forces successfully launched a RS-24 Yars missile from a silo at the Plesetsk test range. The launch took place at 14:30 MSK (11:30 UTC). According to the official statement, the goal of the test was "to confirm reliability of the series of missiles produced at the Votkinsk plant." The missile carried multiple warheads, which are said to have successfully reached their targets at the Kura test range in Kamchatka.
On 24 September 2015 Russia launched a construction of an early-warning radar node, reportedly of the Voronezh-M type, near Vorkuta. The radar, which has been in the plans since at least 2013, will probably replace the old Daryal radar in Pechora. Apparently the new radar node will include two radars, located at some distance from each other.
The exact location of the new radars is not known - the terrain there is really flat, which makes geolocation a bit difficult. A video shot from a local TV story can provide a clue, though:
The smokestack on the background appears to be the power station in Severny, near Vorkuta, which means that the radar is likely to be to the north-west from that place. Indeed, according to one report, the radar is built "a few kilometers from Vograshor", which is exactly there.