Yuri Solomonov, the chief designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, said in a recent interview to the VPK newspaper that flight tests of the RS-24 missile (a MIRVed version of Topol-M) are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008. According to Solomonov, if the tests are successful, the first RS-24 missiles will be operationally deployed in 2009. Since the deployment may begin before the START Treaty expires in December 2009, this most likely means that Russia has found a way to declare RS-24 as a new missile.

Interestingly enough, Solomonov made a good case against MIRVing Topol-M. He rightly pointed out that if there is a limit on the number of warheads, it would make more sense to spread those warheads among many (survivable) launchers rather than concentrate them on a small number of large-throw weight missiles. As I understand, he aimed his remarks on the SS-19 follow-on project advocated by NPOmash, but it is clear that these arguments work against MIRVed Topol-M/RS-24 as well.

On survivability of Topol-M (whether MIRVed or not) Solomonov was quite categorical in insisting that road-mobile missiles are not vulnerable to detection from space. This is one more battle that he has been fighting - Russian press is full of opinions suggesting that U.S. satellites can easily detect road-mobile missiles on patrol. I tend to trust Solomonov on this one - even if detecting some missiles some time might be possible, detecting all of them with a high degree of certainty is most certainly not.