Kataev_K5.11_Mobile_missiles.png The Kataev archive contains quite a few interesting documents. One of them is a note on mobile missiles that describes basic operations of rail-mobile and road-mobile missiles and makes a case for keeping them in the RVSN force. It also provides an insight into Soviet thinking about nuclear strategy.

For some reason I cannot find the document in the Hoover Archive collection guide, but it is definitely there. It is listed as Document 11 in Box 5 in my notes, but my system is different from that in the guide. I translated the note into English, trying to stick to the military-bureaucratic Russian as best as I can. Here is the text of the document:


"Справка по ракетным комплексам мобильного базирования," Vitalii Leonidovich Kataev Papers, Hoover Institution Archive, Stanford University, n.d.


"Spravka po raketnym kompleksam mobilnogo bazirovaniya [A note on mobile missile systems]," (translated from Russian by Pavel Podvig), Vitalii Leonidovich Kataev Papers, Hoover Institution Archive, Stanford University, n.d.

The document does not have a date, but it was probably drafted around 1990 - that would be the year when the Soviet Union had the number of mobile missiles mentioned in the note (which we know from other documents in the archive). On the other hand, some details suggest that it may have been prepared as early as 1988. It appears that the issue came up during the START negotiations that were underway at the time. The United States, of course, never liked (Soviet) mobile ICBMs and probably tried to ban them in the new treaty. It's worth noting that SALT II included a protocol that banned the deployment of mobile ICBM launchers or testing of ICBMs from these launchers, so it would be expected that the United States made an effort to do the same in START.

Even if the SALT II entered into force, which it didn't, the ban on mobile missiles would have expired at the end of 1981, so the Soviet Union proceeded with the deployment of its land-based mobile missile force. This is where the documents starts - by the end of the 1980s, the Rocket Forces operated 267 mobile missile systems (in the Soviet tradition, it's always a "missile system/ракетный комплекс" that includes a missile, its launcher and all the support equipment). Of these, 24 were rail-mobile RT-23UTTH/SS-24/15Zh61 ICBMs with ten warheads each (it's not clear if some RT-23/15Zh52 were still deployed by that time). The rest were 243 single-warhead road-mobile Topol/SS-25 ICBMs.

Patrol areas

Each division of rail-mobile missiles (four trains with three ICBMs each) was assigned "up to 10,000 km of railways" with 350-370 stops along the routes. The note says that this is 30 stops per a launcher, but it would be more accurate to say that it was 90 stops per each three-missile train. A division of road-mobile Topol ICBMs was assigned a patrol area of 40,000-50,000 square kilometers. A full division would include 36 missiles, but there were smaller divisions as well. These are organized in regiments of nine missiles each, further divided into three three-missile battalions (дивизион). As far as I can tell, a regiment would normally go on patrol at the same time, but each battalion would travel independently.

Normally, about 20 percent of regiments would be on patrol or at their field positions. The rest would be on alert at their permanent bases. Topols, for example, would stay in their Krona shelters, connected to the command center and ready to be launched from there at a moment's notice. At a time of a crisis, all mobile missiles would leave their bases.

It is interesting that START did not actually affect the deployment practices. Article VI of the treaty required road mobile missiles to be based only in restricted areas (which would be a missile regiment base) and rail-mobile missiles - in rail garrisons, but that was what they were doing anyway. Missiles could leave their bases for "routine movements, relocations, or dispersals," which would cover very much everything. The limits imposed by the treaty was not particularly constraining. Each road-mobile regiment had to stay within its "deployment area," but that area was quite large - 125,000 square kilometers. So, a deployment area of a missile division would be 500,000 square kilometers, which is more than ten times larger than the actual patrol area of a division. There was no geographical limit on the movements of rail-mobile missiles; the only condition was that no more than 50 percent of them "may be engaged in routine movements at any time." But normally no more than 20 percent of the missiles were on patrol. Moreover, all limits (and notification) were waived for "operational dispersals."

The note reveals that the Soviet Union, in fact, was considering halving the deployment rate because of concerns about "the current situation in the country (the possibility of sabotage)" as well as about accidents.


The note is one of the very few documents that provide a glimpse into the Soviet thinking about nuclear strategy and nuclear missions. It clearly states that mobile missiles are a retaliatory-strike weapon. And retaliatory strike here means "deep second strike" or a strike after ride-out. In this kind of strike mobile missiles would be capable of accomplishing 90 percent of the tasks assigned to the Rocket Forces (presumably, the SLBM force had its own separate assignment). The only other option mentioned in the note is "launch from under attack/otvetno-vstrechnyy udar" when silo-based ICBMs would play the primary role, covering about 70 percent of the Rocket Forces targets (one would assume that mobile missiles would also play a role in the launch from under attack scenario). It is notable that launch on warning is not mentioned and there are no signs of a first strike. Which, of course, confirms other evidence that showed that neither of these two options was part of the Soviet nuclear planning.

The note has absolute numbers too - it says that in a retaliatory strike mobile missiles can hit "up to 80 typical objects" in the United States. This probably assumes that the missiles on patrol would survive the attack - say, one train with three RT-23MUTTH missiles and about 50 Topol ICBMs. The document notes that this number will be increased to 150 by the year 2000, which is still a bit lower than 200 targets that is set as a goal for a retaliatory strike. I would note that this number is, of course, completely arbitrary - there is no way the capability to strike 200, as opposed to 80, targets provides stronger deterrence.


The key advantage of mobile missiles is their ability to hide. Unlike submarines, however, mobile missiles can be seen from space, so that advantage is not absolute. The note shows that the Soviet Union was concerned about space reconnaissance and understood that at some point mobile missiles will be relatively easy to detect. According to the document it was not a problem in the late 1980s, when the US was assessed to operate one "Lasp" and two KH-11 satellites. It's not entirely clear what "Lasp" referred to - that name, which appears to stand for Low-Altitude Surveillance Platform, was mentioned in connection with KH-8, which ended operations in 1984. In general, it appears that the Soviet Union didn't have a very good understanding of the US surveillance programs. It knew, however, about the trends and expected that the United States will deploy 2-4 Lacrosse radar imaging satellites as well as the 2-4 next-generation Keyhole, referred to as KH-12. In the short run these developments were to be countered by a number of measures, such as longer patrols and electronic countermeasures.

It was, however, assessed that the situation will change around 2000 and reliance on mobile missile will eventually become a risky proposition. To ensure survivability of its retaliatory force, the Soviet Union was planning to move to super-hardened silos - 5,000 atm (compared to 100 atm for existing silos) and eventually to silos with "absolute protection". These were "Fortifikatsiya" and "Magma" R&D projects. Fortifikatsiya was already included in the "Protivodeystviye" anti-SDI package.

Construction of super-hardened silos would require lifting the ban on relocation of existing silos and construction of new ones, which was in place since the SALT I days. The note also suggested that the Soviet Union should work to remove a number of other restrictions that were put in place in SALT II - on air-launched ICBMs, new heavy ICBMs - as well as renegotiate the definition of throw-weight to allow development of "modular" ICBMs.

This is just a first take on the document. I would appreciate corrections, comments, and interpretations. Leave them in the comment section below or on Twitter at @russianforces.