Procurement: Russia Wishes The World A Scary New Year


December 25, 2013: Russia made the usual year-end announcement of what new gear it expects the military to receive in the new year. Major items to be delivered include 40 new ICBMs and SLBMs, 210 aircraft and nearly 300 armored vehicles. There will be two new SSBNs (nuclear subs carrying SLBM ballistic missiles) and over a dozen surface ships (combat, amphibious and support). Russia will spend about $650 billion on procurement through 2020 and nearly a trillion dollars for this decade on replacing Cold War era weapons and equipment. 

Getting the money was the easy part, fixing the defense industries has proved to be a much more difficult matter. Even during the Soviet period (1922-1991) Russian technical prowess was always more smoke than fire. This became very clear after the Soviet Union collapsed and many of those secret defects were revealed. Since then Russian military technology has fallen even farther behind the West and this is a big deal in Russia. The politicians there keep promising to regain the lead (or just parity) that never existed during the Soviet days.

To this end Russia spends a lot on its ICBM technology. The recent procurement announcement pointed out that a lot of money was being spent on developing new features for existing ICBMs and new models as well. This is because the Russian military is so weak that the only thing keeping foreign invaders out is the long-range ballistic missiles and their nuclear warheads.

In 2013 there were successful tests of a new solid-fuel ICBM. This new ICBM is meant to replace the current Topol-M. After three more successful tests the new ICBM design will go into production, which may happen within two years. The tests were conducted from the same mobile launcher used for the Topol M. Currently, Russia has most of their RS-12 (Topol-M, also known as the SS-27 in the West) missiles in silos but a growing number are on mobile transports. Russia prefers putting more of its new missiles on TELs (Transporter Erector Launchers) that carry ballistic missiles about the countryside, to make them more difficult to destroy (before they can be launched at an enemy). The United States, and other nations can use spy satellites (that pass over the operating area for the TELs every 90 minutes) to track these TELs and their missiles but that still makes it more difficult for an enemy to make a surprise attack and knock out all Russian ICBMs. This, in theory, could make Russians nuclear threat meaningless.

The new ICBM is apparently the same size as the Topol M and probably uses a lot of the same technology, with enough improvements to justify calling it a new design. This is typical of Russian weapons development. The original Topol (RS-12M) was the first Russian mobile ICBM and entered service in the late 1980s. It was also Russia's first solid fuel ICBM. In 2010 Russia announced that the latest version of the Topol series, the RS-24 (Yars), had entered service. The RS-24 appears to be a slightly heavier version of the 46 ton Topol-M (or RS-12M1/M2). The RS-24 is being deployed in silos as well as on wheeled vehicles. The RS-24 carried more warheads (up to ten) than the Topol-M. The Russians developed the RS-24 to enable them to use all the additional warheads to penetrate American missile defenses.

Russia is also developing a new “heavy” ICBM but that one is still a few years away from production. Nevertheless lots is being spent on developing the new “heavy.” Development work continues on Bulava, the SLBM version of Topol-M. This project has had a lot of problems, most of them traceable to a lack of skilled workers and managers for the manufacture of these missiles. 




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