According to Bill Gertz's Pentagon sources, Russia conducted another test of the Nudol ASAT system on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. The test is said to be successful.
This would be the fourth test of the system and the second successful one. No details are available yet, but so far the tests did not seem to involve an intercept attempt (or simulated intercept).
The Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM project just doesn't want to die. After a report about the program being cut (which I consider quite reliable) we have seen a number of stories that suggest that some work continues - first, an industry source was quoted as saying that "some elements of the system" are being built, and now Yuri Solomonov of MITT is saying that the first "pop-up" tests of the missile will take place in the fourth quarter of 2016.
There is no contradiction here, in fact. Even if the program funding was cut (as it apparently was), it makes perfect sense for MITT to continue the work with their own funds, hoping that the funding get restored in fatter years (assuming that they will come).
Interfax quotes an industry source as saying that the new-generation geostationary early-warning satellite will not be ready for launch in 2016. According to the report, the satellite is still in production and the manufacturers (RKK Energiya is the lead contractor) are awaiting results of the tests of the first satellite of the EKS system. The satellite, Cosmos-2510, was launched into highly-elliptical orbit in November 2015. According to the Interfax source, two HEO satellites have been manufactured so far, one of them is in orbit.
The Interfax report appeared shortly after other reports suggested that the new early-warning satellite will be launched by a heavy Angara-A5 launcher by the end of 2016. The launcher made its maiden flight (with a satellite mockup) in November 2015. The 2016 Angara-A5 launch would probably still take place, but with a different satellite, Angola's Angosat. The GEO EKS launch, which will probably use Angara-A5 as well, appears to be moved to at least 2017.
As it turns out, information about tests of the Nudol ASAT system has been hiding literally in plain sight - in Jonathan McDowell's log of suborbital launches. A colleague alerted me to the fact that dates and times in the list are quite accurate. "GNIIP" in the table is the GNIIP-53 test site otherwise known as Plesetsk.
The list includes three tests of a 14Ts033 (14Ц033) system, which is apparently the designation of the entire system (rather than 14А042, which appears to be the missile). There were three test launches - on 12 August 2014, 22 April 2015, and 18 November 2015. As we know, only the third one was successful (although none of them involved an intercept).
UPDATE: The April 22, 2015 test was, in fact, reported at the time - as a failed test of a missile for the Antey-2500 air defense system. The missile was said to fail shortly after launch and all the debris landed within the perimeter of the test site.
More news about upcoming ICBM deployments, this time about silo version of RS-24 Yars. According to Sergey Karakayev, these missiles will be deployed in Tatishchevo as well as in Kozelsk.
The Kozelsk news is not a news - the plan to deploy Yars missiles there goes back several years. The first Yars regiment there began combat duty in December 2015 and silo construction continues apace.
As for Tatishchevo, until recently the division was deploying Topol-M missiles in its silos - seven regiments were said to be operational there in February 2015. It appears that at least 20 Yars missiles will be deployed there in silos that were until recently used for UR-100NUTTH.
The commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Sergey Karakayev, confirmed today that the new Sarmat missile will be deployed "with the Uzhur missile division and in the Dombarovskiy deployment area (позиционный район)." This is not exactly the news - there are not very many bases that can accommodate the new missile. Besides, it was already reported back in 2014, although with a reference to an unnamed source. The 2014 report was a bit more detailed - it said that the total of 46 missiles will be deployed.
Meanwhile, the tests of the new missile have been delayed again - the original plan was to conduct the first pop-up test from a silo in 2015, but that was moved to the spring of 2016 and now - to the second quarter of 2016 [UPDATE: It has been moved even further down - to the second half of 2016]. It is unlikely that the missile will be ready for deployment in 2018, as promised, but 2020 does not seem entirely impossible.
Although Sarmat is usually described as a "heavy" ICBM that is supposed to replace the heavy SS-18, it appears that the new missile will be closer to SS-19, as it will weigh about 100 tonnes (thanks to artjomh for finding this story from 2012). Sarmat might still be technically a "heavy" missile, since it is defined (in SALT II) as any ICBM that has "a launch-weight greater or a throw-weight greater than" SS-19, which are 105 tonnes and 4,350 kg respectively. I have my doubts about the much-advertised 10 tonnes throw-weight, but we probably cannot rule it out at this point.
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).