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Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces Test Launch Nuclear-Capable RS-24 Yars ICBM

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Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces Test Launch Nuclear-Capable RS-24 Yars ICBM

This marks the first test of the three-stage solid-fueled ICBM since June 2018.

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces Test Launch Nuclear-Capable RS-24 Yars ICBM

A Russian Topol-M ICBM test launched in September 2017.

Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces have test fired a road-mobile Topol MR (aka RS-24 Yars/NATO reporting name SS-27 Mod2 or SS-29) intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in Arkhangelsk Oblast, approximately 800 kilometers north of Moscow on February 6.

The missile was launched at 11:13 a.m. Moscow time. The ICBM warheads reportedly successfully hit their targets at the Kura missile test range on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia’s Far East. “Objectives of the exercise were met,” the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement. The goal of the test launch was “to check, tactical, technical and flight characteristics of the prospective missile system.”

It is unclear what “prospective missile system” alludes to, but it could refer to a new maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV), decoys or other penetration aids. In September 2017, the Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a successful launch of a silo-based Yars ICBM, reportedly testing “experimental warheads,” according to the MoD, which also led to speculations that a new MaRV or decoys were used in the test.

As previously reported by my colleague Ankit Panda, according to U.S. government sources, the September 2017 launch tested a new independent post-boost vehicle (IPBV) that allows for more complex and flexible targeting by maneuvering to position and then releasing multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) midcourse outside the earth’s atmosphere. IPBVs can release MIRVs sooner than conventional ICBMs, which consequently allow the individual warheads to chart a course that is much more independent of the ICBMs main trajectory.

The last test launch of a RS-24 Yars ICBM took place in June 2018. It is unclear whether the test involved a missile in IPBV configuration. Notably, during their annual readiness exercise, which took place in October 2018, no ICBMs were fired, according to official reports, which could point to a failed missile launch. The year before, four Topol-M (aka RS12M2/NATO reporting name: SS-27) ICBMs were launched from Plesetsk.

The RS-24 Yars ICBM reportedly entered service in 2010 and is an improved variant of the Topol-M. The RS-24 Yars is a three-stage solid fueled ICBM, with an estimated range of over 10,000 kilometers, and can deploy active and passive decoys.

The RS-24 Yars can reportedly carry three to six MIRVs with each warhead having a yield of 150 to 250 kilotons. The missile reportedly only takes seven minutes to launch. The missile can be fired from either hardened missile silos or transporter-erector launchers (TELs).

The Strategic Rocket Forces have around 60 mobile and ten silo-based SR-24 Yars ICBMs deployed.