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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia's asymmetrical response to U.S. missile defense

RIA Novosti

16:47 29/09/2011 RIA military commentator Konstantin Bogdanov - A missile tipped with a newly designed warhead failed during the first test firing near Plesetsk in the north of Russia. Despite this setback in Russia's attempt to develop an asymmetrical response to the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, there is no doubt that Russia will do all it can to put its "Colt on the negotiating table" in the words of Russia's NATO representative Dmitry Rogozin.

First test of a prototype

Col. Alexei Zolotukhin, official spokesman for the Defense Ministry's Space Forces, said "representatives of industrial companies tested a missile prototype at the Plesetsk cosmodrome on September 27 as part of the latest missile R&D."

The test failed due to the collapse of the missile's first stage. It was fired from a mobile launcher at 11.08 a.m. Moscow time on September 28. On-site personnel lost contact with the missile almost instantly, and it was found eight kilometers from the launch site after 2 p.m.

"After the launch, the missile fell back down onto the territory of the cosmodrome. There were no casualties or damage," a military source told RIA Novosti.

Representatives of industrial companies in Plesetsk included experts from the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, the chief developer of solid-fuel strategic missiles (Topol, Yars and Bulava), a source from the industry reported.

What was it?

The tone of the initial reports on the incident suggest that competent sources regarded the crashed missile as something entirely new, not merely an old missile modified for the test

This has opened the floodgates of speculation. Was it the hypothetical Avangard system? The public learned about its existence earlier this year when Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told the press: "[Deliveries] of the strategic missiles Topol-M, Yars and Avangard will be increased three-fold."

An analysis of the missile types mentioned by the minister suggests the following very tentative conclusions:

First, Avangard is most likely a system for the ground-based nuclear capability component. Second, like the other missiles mentioned above, it has some connection to the Institute of Thermal Technology.

This begs the question: why does Russia need two new solid-fuel missiles, not to mention from the same developer? The Soviet era is gone and the key words in the armed forces are saving, standardization and "base platforms." The Russian Strategic Forces have acquired such a platform only recently -the MIRVed Yars, which will replace the old Topol versions. Could Avangard be a highly upgraded version of Yars?

Getting back to the recent failure in Plesetsk, a RIA Novosti source from the Defense Ministry reported that the crashed missile was a RS-24 Yars equipped with a new type of warhead. He explained that "the new MIRV was designed to boost the missile's capacity of penetrating prospective missile defense systems."

The bus has left the station

This is most likely a fundamentally new warhead for strategic missiles. Yuri Solomonov, chief designer at the Institute of Thermal Technology, spoke about its completion last winter.

A standard MIRV includes the so-called post-boost vehicle, or bus, which is used to deliver nuclear warheads to targets according to the flight program.

Solomonov said this model had become a thing of the past and explained why the bus was gone: "The missile as an integral whole practically ceases to exist after the sustainer propulsion stage drops off."

The absence of a bus suggests success in developing tacking warheads. Apparently, now they separate all at once and deploy along with decoys in order to maneuver independently under the same flight programs.

The best defense is good offense

It is not so important what exactly crashed at Plesetsk - a completely new Avangard or the existing Yars with an upgraded warhead. Maybe, both assumptions are correct and Avangard is simply an upgraded version of Yars.

However, one thing is clear - the missile that crashed back into the taiga obviously plays a role in the Defense Ministry's plans for an asymmetrical response to the deployment of an American missile defense system in Europe.

The Russian government, alarmed by the initiatives of the Bush administration in the early 2000s, has never received sensible answers to its questions from the Obama team.

It is still unclear at what targets the European missile defense will be directed. NATO claims this system is not designed against Russia but is refusing to sign any legally binding agreements that would unequivocally guarantee Russia's security.

Therefore, until Moscow receives suitable guarantees, it will ensure the security of its nuclear forces by other means, notably offensive systems. One of them was tested in Plesetsk on Tuesday.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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