On April 22, 2006, at 19:40 MSK (15:40 UTC), the Rocket Forces launched a K65M-R missile. According to the Rocket Forces spokesman, the launch was part of the program to develop and test “a re-entry vehicle for land-based and sea-launched intercontinental missiles and new missile defense penetration aids.” The missile was launched toward the missile defense test site in Sary-Shagan, Kazakhstan, which it successfully reached about ten minutes later.

K65M-R is a dedicated launcher, designed to test re-entry vehicles for a range of missiles. It is a modification of the R-14 intermediate-range missile (in that it is similar to the Kosmos-3M launcher). It was first introduced in 1973 and since then has been used quite extensively – up to 20 launches a year in the 1980s. But in 1999 the launches seemed to discontinue (although there is a chance that they went on unreported).

This is not the first time the Rocket Forces are testing new anti-missile defense capabilities of their ballistic missiles. Just recently, in November 2005, a Topol/SS-25 missile was launched along the same path. The choice of Sary-Shagan is quite natural – the Soviet Union built an extensive array of radars and instrumentation equipment there. It is most likely that launches like these are used to tests missile defense systems as well as the means to penetrate them. Preempting some questions I should probably note that, neither of these tests seemed to involve anything “maneuverable hypersonic.”

Based on the information provided by the military - new re-entry vehicle, involvement of the Navy, etc. - my guess would be that it was a test of a re-entry vehicle for the Bulava missile (as well as of some penetration aids). But with the little official information we have it is hard to say this for certain.

One more thing - as far as I understand, a test like this should raise some issues of compliance with the INF Treaty, which banned R-14 missiles. But apparently neither this test nor previous ones have been considered violations. This certainly makes sense, since the R-14 missile hardly has any military value, but I'm somewhat puzzled as to how this is legally possible.