According to an industry source, quoted in the Russian media, the 2018-2027 State Armament Program includes construction of two additional Project 955A/Borey-A submarines. This will bring the number of submarines of the Project 955 class to ten by 2028. The source said that five submarines will be based in the Northern Fleet and five - in the Pacific. He also suggested that the construction of the Borey submarines will continue after 2027, since it is unlikely that the Project 667BDRM subs will be able to remain in service that long. (Back in May 2018, it was suggested that Russia may build six additional Project 955A submarines, bringing the total to 14.)

The original plan called for construction of eight submarines of the Project 955 class. Three of them are already in service - Yuri Dolgorukiy with the Northern Fleet and Alexander Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh in the Pacific. The fourth submarine, Knyaz Vladimir, just began sea trials (it left the dry dock in November 2017). Construction of the eighth submarine, Knyaz Pozharskiy, began in December 2016.

The Air and Space Defense Forces conducted a successful test of the new interceptor of the Moscow missile defense system at the Sary-Shagan test site. According to a VKS representative, "the series of tests fully confirmed technical characteristics of the interceptor," which almost verbatim repeats the statement made after the previous test. The date of the test was not reported, but it is likely that it took place on November 30.

This appears to be the sixth test of the new interceptor, usually referred to as 53T6M. The previous test was conducted in August 2018.

The INF treaty violation dispute just took a few very interesting turns. It started with Sergey Ryabkov's briefing in Moscow on Monday. At some point there was a rumor that the United States is going to formally announce its withdrawal from the treaty on Tuesday. That proved to be a false alarm, and instead we saw results of U.S. administration's effort to present a better case to its NATO allies. That effort brought a statement from the Dutch government, that said that it independently confirmed that Russia is violating the INF Treaty. Then the German intelligence services assessed U.S. evidence as "convincing." And the week closed with a statement released by the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats.

The DNI statement finally provided the official U.S. theory of the violation:

Russia initially flight tested the 9M729 - a ground based missile - to distances well over 500 kilometers (km) from a fixed launcher. Russia then tested the same missile at ranges below 500km from a mobile launcher. By putting the two types of tests together, Russia was able to develop a missile that flies to the intermediate ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty and launches from a ground-mobile platform.

This is not exactly news - this was the theory that first appeared back in 2014 and then was very much confirmed by the people who knew details of the case. Not in so many words, of course, but there was enough information out there to put it all together:

I was told that the information that the Unites States gave to Russia at the early stages of the dispute included a description of two tests--first, the missile was tested from a treaty-compliant launcher (fixed land-based used for SLCM tests) and then, a a few days later, it was tested again, from a noncompliant one (land-based mobile).

I think I have to ask - What was so secret about it? There is absolutely nothing in the DNI statement that could not be released back in 2014. And it would have probably helped find a way to deal with the problem. Instead, attempts to find out what happened were met with dismissive "If only you knew what we know" or "You were not in the room when we discussed the intelligence" kind of response. All this helped bring us to the point when we are discussing the impending collapse of the INF Treaty.

Russia, of course, insists that it did nothing wrong and the missile tested from a fixed launcher is different from that tested from a mobile launcher. Ryabkov, in fact, addressed this more or less directly is his presentation:

[The United States] assumed that Russia could carry out tests of a missile with a smaller amount of fuel than provided for by the design. For our part, we highlighted the specifics of the fuel system of our missile, which preclude such experiments.

What he seems to be referring to is the possibility that the tests from a mobile launcher were made appear treaty-compliant by simply not filling up the fuel tank to the full (the "cколько топлива нальем, тому договору и будет соответствовать" scenario). Whatever is the case, the United States described Russia's measures to ensure that the mobile-launcher tests stay below the INF treaty limit as "attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program." But Russia probably considers them legitimate measures that ensure that the program is in compliance with the letter of the treaty.

Given the confidence with which the United States insists that Russia is in violation, they probably have some fairly solid intelligence. This could be human intelligence, intercepts of phone calls or maybe of the telemetry - something that is fairly good but cannot be shown publicly. Or maybe not - judging by how long it took to convince the Europeans that the violation is real, the evidence may not be all that solid. At this point I wouldn't give U.S. administration the benefit of the doubt. But I don't see a reason to trust the Russian government either.

Where does this leave us and is it possible to find a way to keep the INF Treaty alive? I have written already that inspecting 9M729 is unlikely to be very helpful here. For Russia to agree to show the missile, it would have to be quite certain in advance that the United States will accept that it is a different missile. Otherwise it would just give the U.S. more reasons to accuse it of a treaty violation. The situation is not totally hopeless, but it would require a fairly high level of trust, strong commitment to preserve the treaty, and probably Russia's willingness to take some corrective actions. Alas, all these are in short supply these days.

On November 30, 2018 at 05:27 MSK (02:27 UTC) the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Rockot space launcher with Briz-KM booster stage from the launch pad No. 3 of the launch complex No. 133 of the Plesetsk test site. The three spacecraft delivered into orbit are military communication satellites of the Strela-3M/Rodnik type. In addition to the three satellites, the launcher appears to have placed an additional object to the orbit.

The Rodnik satellites received designations Cosmos-2530, Cosmos-2531, and Cosmos-2532 and international designations 2018-097A, 2018-097B, and 2018-097C. They are registered by NORAD as 43751, 43751, and 43752.

Previous launch of Rodnik-type satellites took place in September 2015. It also used the Rockot launcher, which is a converted UR-100NUTTH ICBM.

In the past, launches of the Rodnik-type satellites also delivered into orbit a small payload, unannounced at the time of the launch. This is what apparently happened this time as well - NORAD registered an additional object, 2018-097D/43754 (2018-097E is the booster).

UPDATE: This payload is reported to be a dummy satellite that took place of the Blits-M satellite that wasn't ready to launch.

On November 26, 2018, Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister, held a briefing in Moscow that was devoted to the INF Treaty. As far as I can tell, the briefing was supposed to outline Russia's official position on the INF treaty. Ryabkov made a few interesting statements that seem to add more uncertainty to the dispute about the treaty (although the fate of the treaty seems to be certain at this point - it won't survive).

First of all, Ryabkov strongly rejected U.S. allegations of non-compliance and said that Russia is committed to preserving the treaty (provided that the United States complies with the treaty, he added). On the details of the accusation, Ryabkov largely confirmed what we have already known.

In my view, the most important point made by Ryabkov is that he insisted that Russia hasn't tested the 9M729 missile to the INF range. Moreover, it appears that this is how Russia has built its defense - since the missile hasn't been tested to the prohibited range, it is treaty-compliant. But, unfortunately for Russia, this is not how the letter of the treaty works - for a missile to be in violation it is sufficient that it has the "range capability." And this is exactly what the United States has been saying (in a recent testimony in the Senate, the Pentagon said that Russia tested the missile "well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty", but I don't trust this statement).

According to Ryabkov, 9M729 is a modification of the 9M728 missile of the Iskander-M system. It was tested to its maximum range at the Kapustin Yar test site on 18 September 2017. In that test the missile flew to the range of "less than 480 km." Interestingly, he said that the modernization "dealt with, first of all, with the missile warhead." This, however, contradicts other data that suggest that the 9M729 is about 1.8 meters longer than 9M728 (so it is a "8-meter missile" similar to Kalibr). But it doesn't rule it out.

Indirectly, Ryabkov confirmed that the United States refer to "range capability" rather than the demonstrated range in its allegations - he said that at some point the United States suggested that the tests were treaty-compliant only because the missile was not fully fueled. To answer that Russia apparently "illuminated specific features of the missile's fuel system that rule out experiments like that." It's hard to tell exactly what this "illumination" involved, though - it is possible that Russia shared some information with the United States, but in general I don't expect that sharing more information would help Russia make its case.

Ryabkov effectively confirmed, although he didn't say it directly, that the United States believes that 9M729 was tested from the Iskander-M launcher (he called it a "universal chassis that is used in a wide range of missile launchers"). This, of course, would make any discussion of returning to compliance extremely difficult.

The bottom line is that we are very much where we were before the briefing. Since Russia hasn't tested the missile to the INF range it believes that it is in compliance or at least that it has plausible deniability. The United States appears to have some pretty solid intelligence data that show that 9M729 has the INF range capability (as I mentioned some time ago, for all we know, the United States has the blueprints of the missile; ironically, this might indeed be the case). But, as a colleague observed, intelligence data cannot be used as a proof for the purposes of the treaty.

I remain convinced that U.S. evidence of the violation is not particularly strong (blueprints notwithstanding). While Russia may be technically in violation, this violation is not nearly as grave as it is portrayed and is definitely not serious enough to warrant dismantlement of the INF treaty

(Ryabkov also described Russia's counteraccusations, but these would warrant a separate post.)

Kozelsk 54.028056 35.46.pngThe first two Yars missiles were deployed with the 28th Guards Missile Division in Kozelsk in 2014. Since then the Rocket Forces completed deployment of the first Yars regiment there (74th missile regiment, in December 2015) and began conversion of the second one (168th missile regiment, in 2016).

The conversion seems to have slowed down somewhat - judging by satellite images, only two silos were complete as of October 2018 (these are 54.028056, 35.46, which is a silo with control center shown on the image above, and 54.08, 35.484722). Construction was visible at four more sites (at three, in fact - 54.018611, 35.538333, 54.04527, 35.676111 and 53.995833, 35.643333 - but it appears that the fourth silo, at 53.944722, 35.574444, is also being converted). But the remaining four silos - 53.938611, 35.374444, 53.993333, 35.343611, 53.963333, 35.464444 and 54.046667, 35.329444 - show no signs of activity. They are probably just waiting for their turn and the work there begin early next year. Still, the delay is interesting, especially if we note that Yars will be installed in silos in Tatishchevo as well.

The Air and Space Forces performed a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk space launch site. The launch took place at 23:17 MSK (20:17 UTC) on November 3, 2018. The satellite that the rocket and its Fregat boost stage delivered into orbit is a Glonass-M navigation satellite. The satellite is likely to be designated Cosmos-2529. The satellite received international designation 2018-086A and was registered by NORAD as object 43687.

Normally, Glonass satellites as well as other military satellites receive Cosmos designation when the ground command center establishes control over the satellite. On 4 November 2018 the Air and Space Forces reported that the control was established. However, the designation has not been announced yet.

Previous Glonass launch took place in June 2018.

An industry source tells the Russian media that the Sarmat development program is on track and the first two missiles will be deployed in 2021. It appears that the first missiles will be deployed in Uzhur. Four more missiles will be added to the regiment later.

TO day that the program is on track is a bit of overstatement. The original plan was to begin flight tests in 2017 and deployment in 2020. The program, however, ran into trouble and although the tests did begin in 2017, these were ejection tests. After three tests the missile appears to be ready for its first flight test that is to take place "in the beginning of 2019."

Back in the day the Rocket Forces said that the plan is to deploy seven Sarmat regiments with 46 missiles with two divisions - Dombarovskiy and Uzhur. It's not yet clear if the upcoming deployment of the Avangard system at Dombarovskiy would change that, but it's unlikely that it will - there are plenty of silos there.

Russian press quotes an industry source as saying that the Avangard boost-glide system (Project 4202) "will begin combat duty by the end of 2019." The first regiment will include two UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missiles, each armed with a single boost-glide vehicle. The missiles will be deployed in silos of the Dombarovskiy missile division. Later the number of missiles in the regiment will be increased to six; a second regiment with six missiles is expected to be deployed by 2027. The source also said that it's possible that the deployment will begin without additional flight tests of the vehicle.

Just one note on the missile that will be used in the Avangard system. There have been speculations that it will be the new Sarmat, but apparently that's not the case - the boost-glide vehicle was associated with UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 from the very beginning of the program in the 1980s, it used the missile during the tests, and will stay with it until the end. Russia got about 30 "dry" UR-100NUTTH missiles that it received from Ukraine - since these missiles have never been fueled they have a few decades of combat service in them.

On October 25, 2018 at 3:15 MSK (0:15 UTC) the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk test site. The satellite delivered into orbit received official designation Cosmos-2528.

The satellite received international designation 2018-082A and was registered as object 43657 by NORAD. It is reported to be a Lotos-S1 14F145 electronic reconnaissance satellite, which became part of the Liana system. Cosmos-2528 is the third Lotus-S1 satellite - two previous ones are Cosmos-2520 (launched in December 2014) and Cosmos-2524 (December 2017). Cosmos-2455, launched in November 2009, was a prototype Lotus-S satellite.