On October 25 2016 the Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful test launch of an UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile from the Dombarovskiy basing area. The missile was launched at 11:58 MSK (08:58 UTC). According to a ministry of defense representative, the payload was "successfully delivered" to the Kura test site in Kamchatka.
This is probably another test of the Project 4202 hypersonic vehicle, similar to that conducted in April 2016.
The April launch helped finally identify the silo that is used for Project 4202 launches. It is the one at
50.972741, 59.550726 51.030808, 59.690054. UPDATE: I got the wrong silo. I also should note that the credit for finding the silo goes to anik, who also pointed out my mistake. (As you understand, there is no mystery in the method - I do try to follow all kinds of discussions and I do appreciate it when people tell me that I'm wrong.)
UPDATE: Or maybe it wasn't a Project 4202 test after all. The official ministry of defense statement says that "the goal of the launch was the confirmation of stability of key technical characteristics of missiles of this class during the period of extended service life." It well may be, but the "service life" could also be a cover story. It's hard to tell at this point. The last time UR-100NUTTH was launched in a dedicated service life extension test was in December 2011. That launch, however, was also part of the Project 4202 program. It is likely that later Project 4202 tests were used to extend service life of the missile (which was set to 36 years in 2014).
October is the time the Russian forces conduct their large annual exercises that almost always involve multiple launches of ballistic missiles. Last year the exercise took place on October 30. This year there was no formal announcement of an exercise, though.
The first launch of the day was that of a R-29R/SS-N-18 missile from the Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets submarine of the Project 667BDR/Delta III class. The submarine was deployed in the Sea of Okhotsk, so the warheads were delivered to the Chizha test site at the Kanin Peninsula. Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets appears to be quite active these days, despite its age - it still goes on combat patrol and conducted a number of launches over the last few years, the last one - in 2013. The last two years, in 2014 and 2015, it was another Project 667BDR submarine, Podolsk, that was used in exercises.
Another SLBM, the Sineva version of R-29RM, was launched from Novomoskovsk Project 667BDRM submarine. The submarine was deployed in the Barents Sea and the warhead reached its target in Kura test site. Novomoskovsk returned to service after an overhaul in 2012 and did not launched a missile since that.
The ICBM launch conducted today was the Topol/SS-25 launch from Plesetsk. The missile was launched toward the Kura test site. It is the second Topol launch in two months - the previous one took place in September. Officially, the launch was conducted "to confirm the extended lifetime of the missile." If so, this is one of the two lifetime extension launches promised by Karakayev in 2016. In 2014 the lifetime of Topol was extended to 26 years.
The U.S. State Department released aggregate New START numbers from the 1 September 2016 data exchange. Russia declared 1796 deployed warheads, 508 deployed launchers, and 847 total launchers. In March 2016 the numbers were 1735, 521, and 856 respectively.
The U.S. numbers in September 2016 were 1367 warheads, 681 deployed and 848 total launchers (1481, 741, and 878 in March 2016).
On September 27, 2016 the Yuri Dolgorukiy submarine of the Project 955 Borey class conducted a salvo launch of two Bulava missiles. The missiles were launched from a submerged submarine deployed in the White Sea. According to the official statement, the launch was fully successful. Warheads of the first missile reached their targets on the Kura test site. The second missile self destroyed "after completing the first phase of the flight".
The ministry of defense called the launch "experimental," but the nature of the experiment is not clear. One report quotes former chief of the Navy Main Staff as saying that the launch was supposed to check the readiness of the strategic fleet, so maybe the experiment checked the command and control procedures. But it's just a guess.
The destruction of the missile shortly after launch is unlikely to be the experiment in question. This appears to be a normal practice in salvo launches - at the very least it saves money, since the missile probably carries mockups instead of working upper stages and warehads. Indeed, this is probably what happened in the previous salvo launch, in November 2015 -- there were reports about destruction of one missile. These reports were probably right, but it was wrong to conclude (as I did) that it was a failure.
This launch has its own history. The previous one, in November 2015, conducted by Vladimir Monomakh, was reported to be not entirely successful. There were reports that suggested that the missile that flew to Kura was damaged as it was leaving the launch tube and as a result its warheads missed the targets (we may note that reports about today's launch emphasized that "both missiles left their tubes and followed the assigned trajectories"). Then, there was a report that Vladimir Monomakh will make another attempt in June 2016, before leaving to the Pacific. However, it has left without a launch.
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.