At 11:30 MSK (08:30 UTC) on December 22, 2004 the Strategic Rocket Forces successfully launched an SS-18 (R-36M2) missile from a silo launcher at the Dombarovsky missile base. The missile warhead reached its designated target at the Kamchatka test site.

The launched missile is the latest version of the SS-18 family of missiles, known as R-36M2 or RS-20V or Voyevoda. Missiles of this type have a number of design improvements over their predecessor, R-36MUTTH (SS-18, RS-20B) – its second-stage engine is fully submerged into the fuel tank, warheads are arranged on a two-layer platform, etc. – which helped increase its combat effectiveness. With throwweight of 8.8 MT, the missile can carry ten individually-targeted warheads and missile defense penetration aids.

R-36M2 missiles were deployed in 1988-1992. The missile that was launched today was reported to have stayed in service for 16 years, which means that this is one of the first deployed R-36M2 missiles. The launch is apparently part of the program to extend service life of this missile to 25 or even 30 years, which is necessary to keeping these missile in service until 2016-2020, as it is currently planned. The Strategic Rocket Forces has about 40-50 missiles of this type in active service.

Today’s launch is important in other respects as well. It is the first launch carried out from the Dombarovsky missile base. All previous test launches of missiles of the SS-18 family as well space launches of the Dnepr launcher (a converted SS-18 missile) were conducted from the Baykonur test site. Launches from Dombarovsky would allow Russia to conduct test launches of the combat SS-18 missiles from its own territory (a total of five to seven launches are planned in the next several year) and, what is potentially more important, proceed with the Dnepr space launcher program without having to enter into arrangements with Kazakhstan.