YeniseyskRadar.png In December 2017 the Air and Space Forces started combat operations at three early-warning radars - in Barnaul, Yeniseysk (on the photo), and Orsk.

The radars in Barnaul and Yeniseysk are Voronezh-DM, the Orsk one is Voronezh-M. Construction of the radars started in 2013-2014 - Barnaul, Yeniseysk, and Orsk. The radars started initial operations in December 2016, allowing the defense minister to announce that all gaps in the early-warning coverage have been closed.

It's possible that this maybe the location of the new radar that is built to replace/augment Olenegorsk:

But it's too early to tell and some details don't quite add up - in a recent interview commander of the Space Forces said that the radar is being built "at a mountain with the height of 400 m." Google Earth doesn't show any mountains at this location.

This is the Google Earth file with radar coordinates and their fans. Russian early warning radars Jan 2018.kmz

Sources in the military or defense industry tell Russian press that the first ejection test of the Sarmat missile did take place in Plesetsk. Normally, MK is not the most reliable source, but this time the information appears to be correct - sources on the other side also say that the test did happen.

The MK report leaves the impression that the test took place in the last few days of this year, but the test apparently took place in early December. Which is interesting - a few days ago Rogozin had a chance to comment on the progress of the Sarmat program and he refused to say anything. In any event, the program is clearly behind the schedule and my take is that the chances of Sarmat being deployed in 2020 are extremely slim.

One detail in the MK report caught eye of a few observers - the missile reportedly flew "several tens of kilometers" before landing "within the test site." This is a bit too far for an ejection test. It's quite possible that the reporter mixed up meters and kilometers. Or the launch involved a limited test of the first stage engines. A mix-up seems a safer bet, but a test of the engines is possible as well.

The bmpd blog of the CAST Center says that the test did not involve the first stage engine. According to their information, two more ejection tests will take place in the first half of 2018.

Tula submarine of the Project 667BDRM/Delta IV completed overhaul at the Zvezdochka Plant in Severodvinsk. According to a Zvezdochka report, the submarine completed the test program on December 21, 2017.

The submarine arrived to Zvezdochka in December 2014. Normally, its place would be taken by another submarine of the Project 667BDRM class, but this time no submarine is reported to enter overhaul.

UPDATE: In fact, there was a report about Bryansk waiting to enter overhaul in 2018 - probably in March. Bryansk completed its most recent overhaul in 2008, although it was seen in dry dock in 2012.

The Strategic Rocket Forces continue the tradition of conducting about half of the launches they say they plan to conduct. According to the last year statement, the 2017 plan included "more than ten" missile launches. The actual number is six - in a traditional end of the year interview, Sergey Karakayev said the his service had conducted five launches and planning to have one more by the end of the year. That last launch - Topol from Kapustin Yar - has just taken place, apparently concluding the 2017 launch program.

The 2017 launches were supposed to include "development" launches, life extension, and combat training. Indeed, there was a bit of everything. The first launch was that of a silo-based Topol-M from Plesetsk in January 2017. A launch of silo-based Yars from Plesetsk to Kura on September 12, 2017 was used to test "parallel deployment of warheads." There were two more launches in September -- a training launch of road-mobile Yars from Plesetsk on 20 September 2017 and a Topol launch from Kapustin Yar to Sary Shagan on 26 September 2017. A month later, on 26 October 2017 a Topol missile was launched from Plesetsk during an annual exercise of strategic forces.

In the interview, Karakayev promised 12 launches in 2018. It's a safe bet the actual number will be closer to six.

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On December 26, 2017 the Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a successful launch of a Topol/SS-25 missile from the Kapustin Yar test site. The test was used "to collect experimental data that will be used to develop advanced missile defense countermeasures."

Previous Topol launch from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan took place in September 2017.

The word is that U.S. administration has finally identified the cruise missile that it suspects to violate the INF Treaty. In his remarks at the Wilson Center, Christopher Ford of the National Security Council said that the missile is known in Russia as 9M729. This was the first time the Russian name of the missile, designated in the United States as SSC-8, was announced officially. But, of course, someone leaked it to Jeffrey Lewis back in 2015, so it's not really news. I had my doubts about the 9M729 theory, but if that's what the U.S. administration builds its claim on, I am not in a position to argue.

The disclosure may seem like a big deal, but it probably isn't. The problem is that the designation alone doesn't really tell us anything, since there is not much that we know about the missile. To say more about the alleged violation we need other information that the United States gave to Russia:

Information on the violating GLCM's test history, including coordinates of the tests and Russia's attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program;

This is where it gets interesting. In my earlier post, I described a number of scenarios that would lead the United States to conclude that the missile - SSC-8/9M729 - violates the treaty. I suspected that the missile in question has not been tested to the INF range from a mobile ground-based launcher and I can now say with some certainty that that I was right - it wasn't. This means that the evidence of a violation is indirect. Of course, this does not automatically gets Russia off the hook - the INF Treaty does not require a cruise missile to demonstrate its range in an actual test. Just having a capability is enough (Article VII.4):

The range capability of a GLCM [...] shall be considered to be the maximum distance which can be covered by the missile in its standard design mode flying until fuel exhaustion, determined by projecting its flight path onto the earths sphere from the point of launch to the point of impact.

Given that the United States seems to be very confident in its conclusion about the range capability of the 9M729 missile, we should assume that it has good information about it. Who knows, maybe U.S. intelligence has detailed blueprints of the missile and all its technical characteristics. Maybe the documentation shows that extending the range of the 9M728 Iskander-M is just a matter of filling the fuel tank full. As a Russian colleague quipped, "Сколько топлива нальем, тому договору и будет соответствовать," which could be (very) roughly translated as "How much fuel we add is the treaty it will comply with."

More likely, though, is another scenario that I described in my previous post - the 9M729 missile is almost identical to a missile that was tested at the INF range, probably to the sea-launched Kalibr. As I understand, the United States observed a test of a missile from a compliant launcher (that would be an SLCM test) followed by a test (of presumably the same or a very similar missile) from a non-compliant one. Russia can still insist that these missiles were sufficiently different and that it is therefore in full compliance. But proving that would be quite difficult, especially if 9M729 is indeed capable of exceeding the 500 km threshold of the INF Treaty.

Another interesting detail that emerged from various discussions is that the United States appears to believe that the 9M729 missile uses the same Iskander-M launcher. If that is indeed the case, return to INF Treaty compliance would have to involve elimination of all Iskander-M launchers and missiles. That's a pretty high bar and it is extremely difficult to imagine that Russia would agree to this. But not all is lost. If the 9M729 launchers have what is known as "functionally related observable differences" or FRODs, then it might be possible to limit the damage and only those launchers that are capable of launching 9M729 would have to be eliminated (assuming that the missile is indeed non-compliant). [UPDATE: Or maybe not. If 9M729 was tested from an Iskander launcher even once, all these launchers will have to be eliminated. And that seems to be the case.]

The bottom line is that we still need more information to say anything conclusive about the alleged violation or chart a way out of this situation.

Barguzin, the project to develop a rail-mobile ICBM, appears to have been cancelled again - according to a source in the defense industry, quoted in the Russian press, the program has been closed, "at least for the time being."

This is not the first time the program was said to be cancelled, only to be resurrected. It began in 2013, apparently as a MITT own project with some support from the Strategic Rocket Forces. It got a green light in 2014, but then people started having doubts and a in the early 2016 the word got out that the program is about to be terminated.

That didn't stop the MITT, though and the designers pressed on with the project, probably hoping to reverse that decision once they demonstrate that the system works. [UPDATE: I am being told that MITT, in fact, is rather skeptical about the project and the initiative comes from the military.] On November 1, 2016 the MITT conducted an ejection test of the missile at the Plesetsk test site. It got to the point where the industry source (probably MITT) suggested that the first flight tests of Barguzin will begin in 2019. That probably won't happen, but it is quite possible that the project will come back again. We'll see.

On December 2, 2017 at 13:43 MSK (10:43 UTC) the Air and Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from the Plesetsk test site. The satellite delivered into orbit received official designation Cosmos-2524.

The satellite received international designation 2017-076A and was registered as object 43032 by NORAD. It is reported to be a Lotos-S1 electronic reconnaissance satellite, which became part of the Liana system. Two previous satellites, Cosmos-2455 (Lotos-S) and Cosmos-2502 (Lotos-S1), were launched in November 2009 and in December 2014 respectively.

It should be noted that the most recent military satellite, launched in September 2017, was designated Cosmos-2522. Cosmos-2523 is probably a small satellite associated with the Cosmos-2519 mission. In August 2017, the ministry of defense announced that Cosmos-2519 released a satellite-inspector.

On November 23, 2017 the Air and Space Defense Forces (VKS) conducted a successful test of an interceptor of the Moscow missile defense system. The test took place at the Sary-Shagan test site. The launch was conducted by the crews of the VKS air and missile defense army.

The interceptor was described as a "new modernized" one, so this is probably the same interceptor that was launched in June 2017. Given that the launch container is essentially the same as that of the 53T6/Gazelle missile, the new interceptor is likely to be a 53T6 upgrade. And probably a modest upgrade at that - if the June launch was supported by "industry representatives," this one appears to be done by the VKS crew alone.

On November 17, 2017 Sevmash launched the first submarine of the Project 955A Borey-A class, Knyaz Vladimir. Construction of the submarine was officially inaugurated in July 2012, although the work appears to have started as early as 2010.

According to the commander-in-chief of the navy, Knyaz Vladimir is expected to enter service in 2018. It will be the fourth submarine of the Project 955 line. The previous one - Vladimir Monomakh - joined the fleet in December 2014. There are some apparent differences between Project 955 and Project 955A (reviewed here), but like Borey, Borey-A submarines will carry 16 Bulava SLBMs, as expected.