Strategic Weapons: August 19, 2005


Russia has announced that it will increase its test launches of ICBMs to ten a year, at least for this year and 2006. This is an increase from the six, or fewer test launches made since the Cold War ended in 1991. The test launches arent really all that expensive. The missiles are going to age and become useless eventually anyway. The only additional costs for a test launch are the dummy warheads (with the radio and other gear to enable people on the ground to track it), and the monitoring stations down range. The missile selected for the test shot has its nuclear warhead replaced with the dummy one, and the guidance system is reprogrammed to bring the missile down into an ocean, or a distant, uninhabited part of Russia (the arctic far east is a favorite landing spot). The Russians do their test launches from actual silos, which have to be rebuilt afterward. This is probably the most expensive part of the process. But with the end of the Cold War, money was tight, and Russias ICBM force was aging fast. By the last 1990s, more than half of their missiles were past their shelf date and much less reliable. Thus one reason for having fewer test launches, was to reduce the chance of an embarrassing failure. But with the economy growing, and oil (a major export) going for over $60 a barrel, theres more money for maintaining the ICBM force, and running test launches that are less likely to fail. 


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