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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

A-35 / ABM-1

On September 1, 1971, the first Soviet full-fledged missile defense system, the A-35, was deployed and put on combat alert around Moscow. The system was based on principles and technologies tested on the experimental Sistema A.

The A-35 comprised the main command and computing center, two long-range radio-radar stations and four launching complexes. The entire infrastructure was deployed in the Moscow region. The A-35 was capable of intercepting single-block ballistic missiles at a distance of 130-400 km and at an altitude of 50-400 km. The system covered an area of 400 square km.

In August 1953, seven Marshals of the Soviet Union, together with Chief of the General Staff V.D. Sokolovskiy, sent a memorandum to the CPSU Central Committee requesting it consider the possibility of creating ABM weapons. By 1955, proposals for a test-range missile defense prototype -- known as System "A" -- were prepared. A decision of the Council of Ministers on 17 August 1956 authorized work on antimissile defense and the creation of an experimental proving ground. By that time the location for a future proving ground had been found at Sary Shagan and the design was in progress.

The first experimental system was called System A. The design, production, and testing of this system was conducted under the management of General Designer Kisunko. He realized that accurate measurement of coordinates of both the target and the antimissile fired to destroy it with a fragmentation warhead was among the hardest challenges facing the designers. He chose the three-distance method to achieve high accu- racy in coordinate measurement and the method of guiding the antimissile pre- cisely on a head-on collision course parallel to the approach course of the target.

Kisunko settled on three high-precision radar sets to be placed at the points of a triangle inscribed into the outer circle of the Berkut S-25 antimissile defense (AMD) system built around Moscow having an 85 kilometer radius. For his idea to build an antimissile defense system (System A) to be put into prac- tice, a triangle of a size close to the chief designer’s triangle was to be laid out on the newly built AMD proving ground near Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan.

On 2 February 1956, full-scale tests were conducted on the R-5M missile carrying a real nuclear warhead. They needed to prove that a missile warhead could be struck and knocked out of action with high-velocity fragments from an anti-ballistic missile, which would explode in its path before or during entry into the atmosphere. Sixteen thousand tungsten carbide balls that exploded 32 meters away from the head of the attacking missiles and completely destroyed it.

Factory No. 88 manufactured R-5M warhead containers ordered by Samvel Kocheryants, who was chief of KB-11 at Arzamas-16 and chief designer of the nuclear device. The experiments were conducted under the supervision of Academician Yuliy Khariton. Khariton was surprised that it wasn’t so easy to damage an atomic bomb with fragments. The hull of the R-5M missile warhead container proved to be surprisingly sturdy. It was necessary to develop a more effective warhead for the anti-missile. The atomic scientists proposed testing our warhead container at the nuclear firing range near Semipalatinsk. It was interesting to test the effects of the shock wave of a nuclear explosion. What we had in mind was a scenario on the principle that “one atomic projectile needs to hit another atomic projectile.”

A nuclear test -- operation "K" -- was conducted in December 1956 at the Semipalatinsk Range, based on work conducted at KB-11 (now known as Arzamas-16) by Academician Yu.B. Khariton. This demonstrated that a fragmentation warhead of an antiballistic missile could be replaced with a nuclear warhead, significantly increasing an interceptor's kill radius and effectiveness.

The SKB-30 design bureau, headed by general designer Grigory Vasilyevich Kisunko developed the antimissile control system, precise guidance radar, command transmission station and other components. A group of design organizations: central-computer system - general designer academician Sergey Lebedev; early antimissile missiles - general designer P.D. Grushin; launchers - general designer I.I. Ivanov; antimissile guidance radar - general designer S.P. Rabinovich ; data transmission system - general designer F.P. Lipsman. The chief designer of the ground-based launcher was Vladimir Barmin. Radar systems were produced jointly with Academician Aleksandr Mints’ Radio Engineering Institute. Kisunko coordinated the activity of these organizations.

By 1961 the facilities at Sary Shagan needed for full-scale testing of system "A" were ready. On 4 March 1961, for the first time in the world, System A intercepted and destroyed the payload of one of Yangel’s R-12 missiles. Subsequently, V-1000 anti-ballistic missiles were launched against the payloads of R-5M and R-12 missiles. In so doing, these tests verified the destruction reliability of missile warheads. A modified V-1000 anti-ballistic missile with a heat-seeking homing head and on-board computer was developed to increase accuracy and effectiveness. Full-scale tests showed that it was possible, in principle, to intercept and destroy ballistic missile warheads during the descent segment of their trajectory.

In all, system "A" carried out 11 successful interception of ballistic missiles R-12 and R-5 with destruction of their warheads with non-nuclear antimissiles due to the kinetic energy of collision with the warheads by submunitions missiles, as well as the chemical energy of the explosion of TNT contained in each of submunitions.

Unlike their Soviet counterparts, American designs in the 1960s used powerful nuclear weapons installed on anti-missile missiles as a feasible way of destroying enemy warheads. The first interception of a ballistic warhead with non-nuclear ("kinetic") interceotr was implemented in the United States June 10, 1984.

By June 1961 Kisunko's team had completed the conceptual design of the A-35 ABM system designed to protect Moscow. The project called for a system to counter Titan-2 and Minuteman-2 single-warhead ballistic missiles. This system was to have a command post, eight radars forming a circular long-range detection field, and 32 firing complexes. In the fall of 1962, the conceptual design of the A-35 system was approved. A new conceptual design produced in 1964 reduced the number of firing complexes to 16, updated the functional principles of the system. The ABM-1 Galosh interceptor missile was paraded in Red Square in 1964, and characterized as an ABM interceptor. The missile has never been seen in public except in its launch container. An experimental model of the A-35 system -- the "Aldan" -- was created at the Sary Shagan range by 1967 for testing the system.

The components of the Moscow ABM- system included:

  • ABM-1 Galosh three-stage solid-fueled interceptor missile, which is about 20 meters long with a range of over 300 kilometers and a warhead with a yield of several megatons. This interceptor is no longer operational.
  • ABM-1B improved Galosh with a restartable liquid-fueled third stage for improved post-launch re-targeting was initially deployed in the mid 1970's. 32 are presently operational. The missile is launched from above-ground launchers.
  • Four Try Add mechanically steered battle-management missile guidance radars are deployed at each missile site.
  • The Dog House large phased array radar is deployed near Moscow at Naro-Fominsk, and functions much like the Perimeter Acquisition Radar of the U.S. Sentinel/Safeguard ABM system.
  • The Cat House phased array radar is similar to the Dog House and is deployed near Moscow and oriented toward China.
  • The Hen House fixed-array electronically scanned early warning radars provide attack warning but no missile guidance battlemanagement and are similar to U.S. BMEWS radars. 11 Are deployed at 6 sites: Olenegorsk, Skrudna, Angarsk, Nikolaeyev, Sary Shagan and one other location.

The early evidence suggested that the Moscow ABM system would have a force level of 128 launchers at 16 launch sites -- four sites in each quadrant. In early 1964, construction in the southeast quadrant was abandoned, and the number of launch sites dropped to 12.

In the late 1960's construction started on eight launch sites for this system in the vicinity of Moscow, with four of these sites actually becoming operational. Construction and installation work was begun at the system installations: at the command post, Dunay-3 (chief designer V.P. Sosulnikov) and the improved Dunay-3U (chief designer A.N. Musatov) sector radars, and firing complexes. A technical base was created for preparing and maintaining the antiballistic missiles. Maximum use was made of the ring roads, cable communications links, and part of the other structures of the S-25 [SA-1] air defense system, which helped reduce spending on the new ABM weapon system.

During late 1967 or early 1968 the Soviets appeared to have made further reductions in the construction of ballistic missile defenses at Moscow. Work had apparently ceased on two more sites in the northeastern and two in the southwestern environs of Moscow. Construction was not resumed at these sites, and the final force level for the completed system will be eight sites and a total complement of 64 launchers. All elements of the system were expected by US intelligence to be operational by mid-1970.

The cutbacks did not materially change the strategic role of the system, since even at originally indicated levels it could not have coped with a determined US attack. The Soviets may have felt a greater need for improved capabilities -- for example, against penetration aids and multiple warheads -- before filling in the Moscow system or extending ABM coverage into other parts of the Soviet Union.

As of mid-1968 work on elements of the Moscow ABM system was progressing. The forward early warning and tracking radars at Olenegorsk and Skrunda were believed to be operational. At Moscow, three of the present eight launch sites and the northwestern faces of the Dog House target acquisition and tracking radar were undergoing checkout for operational readiness later this year. Ground clearing and associated activities at Skrunda and Moscow raised the possibility that deployment of new ABM-related radars was under way.

By 1971, four of the eight Dunay sector radars and eight of the 16 firing complexes at Moscow had been built.

On the whole the performance of the Galosh appeared similar to that of the American Nike-Zeus. The use of mechanically steered radars and high yield nuclear warheads substantially limits the effectiveness of this system, which could be easily saturated by even a small attack. The A-35 system was unable to counter missiles with multiple warheads, especially under conditions of use of penetration aids such light and heavy decoy targets and active jammers, a fact which became obvious to the Soviets 1971.

A decision was made, supported by the military-industrial commission (VPK), to finish building the facilities already started [the second Dunay-3U radar and at five firing complexes]. All the rest of the work for the rest of the system was halted. The system was accepted only into experimental operation and essentially returned to industry for modernization. In 1972, the system passed state tests and was adopted for service. The interceptors in this system were on exposed surfaced-based launchers which always had missiles on them, fueled with corrosive propellant components and loaded with a multi-megaton nuclear warhead.

The A-35 was also planned to be deployed in other areas. However, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) between the US and the Soviet Union allowed such missile defenses only in two areas in each of the countries. In 1974, an amendment to the treaty limited the number of missile defense covered areas to one in each of the two countries. In 2002, Washington unilaterally withdrew from the treaty.

In 1973 general designer G.V. Kisunko developed a plan for modernizing the system. In the summer of 1975 Kisunko was relieved of his position as general designer by the Minister of the Radio Industry, P.S. Pleshakov. Thereafter Chief designer I.D. Omelchenko supervised the modernization work, and by May 1977 the A-35M ABM system was presented for state testing.

The updated A-35M system was produced after Kisunko’s removal when the “anti-ballistic missile” field was transferred from scientists to [frequently replaced] administrators. After various organizational experiments, General Designer Anatoliy Basistov began to take hold of the field.

The A-35M, the upgraded version of the A-35, was put in service in 1977. Other accounts related that in 1978 the improved A-35M defense system was commissioned and put on combat duty. Its main distinctive feature was the capability to intercept multiple-warhead ballistic missiles.

The antiballistic missiles were fueled with propellant components and equipped with a warhead only at the technical base. Electrically weighted mock-ups were installed at the launch positions. Delivery of the ABM missiles from the technical base to the exposed, ground-based launch positions in a crisis situation was reduced significantly.

In the late 1970's two of these sites were de-activated, in anticipation of subsequent upgrades. Each site has 16 launchers with associated radars and battle-management computers.

At the same time, a brand-new missile defense system was in development. It was called the A-135 Amur and entered service in 1990 and five years later it was put on combat alert in the Moscow region.

ABM Launch Site

Closeup of Galosh ABM Site

Typical ABM Launch Site

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