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.

It was a bit unusual, to put it mildly, that the annual exercise of the strategic forces that was held yesterday, on October 11, 2018 did not involve an ICBM launch. The only Rocket Forces story was a decontamination training in a number of Yars divisions.

Plesetsk-NOTAMs-2018.jpgAs it turned out, an ICBM launch was apparently part of the plan, but was either cancelled or failed. We can see that from the NOTAM that closed areas around Plesetsk between 11 and 16 of October (it's still active, so the launch may still take place). The location of the first area is a bit odd - it appears to be up-range from the Topol/Yars launch pads. But this appears to be a normal practice - the NOTAM from a Yars launch in June 2018 closed exactly the same area.

The Yars test in June, in fact, was not announced at the time. It was only later the Rocket Forces revealed that there was indeed a test. What is interesting is that the areas closed in October look very different from those closed in June. This may be a difference between Topol and Yars - I need more NOTAMs to compare. Or maybe it's something else. I'll try to look into that.

On October 11, 2018 the Russian strategic forces conducted an annual exercise that involved launches of SLBMs and launches of weapons carried by long-range bombers.

The SLBM launches were conducted from one of the Project 667BDRM submarines of the Northern Fleet from the Barents Sea to the Kura test range and one of the submarines of the Pacific Fleet, probably Project 667BDR class Ryazan, from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Chizha test range. It appears that in both cases it was a salvo launch, but there is no official information about the number of missiles that were involved.

As for the strategic aviation, the exercise included flights of Tu-95MS (apparently with the new Kh-101 missile), probably from Ukrainka, Tu-160 from Engels (probably also with Kh-101), and flights of Tu-22M3 from Shaylovka. The bombers are said to hit targets at the Pemboy and Terekta test ranges.

It appears that no ICBMs took part in the exercise.

It should be noted that the official statement about the exercise mentions that all SLBM launches were detected by the EKS space-based early-warning system and by the early-warning radars.

Previous exercise of this kind took place in October 2017.

The U.S. State Department released aggregate New START numbers from the 1 September 2018 data exchange. Russia declared 1420 deployed warheads, 517 deployed launchers, and 775 total launchers. In February 2018 the numbers were 1444, 527, and 779 respectively.

The U.S. numbers in September 2018 were 1398 warheads, 659 deployed and 800 total launchers (1350, 652, and 800 in February 2018).

The ministry of defense told journalists that it conducted three missile tests at the Plesetsk test site since December 2017 - two ejection tests of Sarmat and one full test of RS-24 Yars.

This is the first official confirmation of the Yars test that apparently took place in June 2018. The test was not announced at the time, although it was confirmed informally.

The situation with Sarmat tests is more interesting - there was a report about a third ejection test in May 2018 and that information came from a number of normally credible sources and there is no reason to doubt them.

It's difficult to see why the ministry of defense would not admit that there was a test, especially since there is a video of a Sarmat ejection test that doesn't look like either December or March - the one that was published in the official ministry of defense YouTube channel on July 19, 2018:

We can definitely tell that this is not the December 2017 test - the video of that one was released on March 1, 2018, right after Putin's address:

There was also a video of the March test, published on March 29, 2018:

Even a quick look tells us that this is not the December test - the clouds are different to begin with and I'm sure that there are other differences too. We also know from satellite imagery that the site was covered in snow in March, so there is no way that first video was taken in March.

The word from "an industry source" is that flight tests of the Sarmat missile will begin "in the beginning of 2019." This follows a series of ejection tests that took place in Plesetsk in December 2017, March 2018, and May 2018 (although the source quoted by TASS says there were only two tests).

UPDATE: The ministry of defense insists that it carried out only two Sarmat tests - in December 2017 and in March 2018.