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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


R-36M Voyevoda / SS-18 SATAN

Six variants were deployed, with several other variants being tested but never operationalized.

    SS-18 Variant 1 - R-36M

    The SS-18 Variant 1 carried a single large reentry vehicle, with a warhead yield of 18 to 25 MT with a range of about 6,000 nm. Pop-up tests began in January 1971 during which the mortar launch was perfected. Some sources suggested that testing began in October 1972; however the actual flight tests for the single-RV Mod-1 began on 21 February 1973. During the testing, various different types of warheads and was finished in October 1975. Two months later deployment began [though some Western sources suggest that an initial operational capability was reached in early 1975]. A total of 56 were deployed by 1977. All were eventually replaced by Variant 3 or Variant 4 missiles by 1984. Like other R-36 missiles, these high-yield weapons were assessed in the West as possibly developed to attack American Minuteman ICBM launch control centers.

    SS-18 Variant 2 - R-36M

    The SS-18 Variant 2 included a post-boost vehicle and up to eight reentry vehicles with an individual warhead yield estimated at between 0.5 to 1.5 MT, with a range capability of about 5,500 nm. The MIRVs were placed in pairs along with a post boost vehicle with a command structure and a propulsion system within the nose cone of the R-36M. The flight tests of the MIRVed variant-2 began in September 1973 [though some Western sources suggest that the initial flight test of the Mod 2 MIRV version occurred a month earlier]. Deployment began in 1975. with approximately 132 being deployed by 1978. The post-boost vehicle design was seriously flawed, and as a result, variant 2 missiles were all replaced by variant 4 by 1983.

    SS-18 Variant 2x - R-36M

    Between July 1978 and August 1980 a variant 2 MIRVed missile with an improved nose cone was tested but not deployed. The existence of this system was reported by Russian sources, but not confirmed by unclassified Western sources.

    SS-18 Variant 3 - R-36UTTh

    SS-18 Variant 3 carried a single large reentry vehicle that was an improved version of the SS-18 variant-1. A few months after the R-36M, entered service, in August 1976, the development of an improved modification of the R-36M (15A14) and MR UR-100 (15A15) was approved. This missile received the designation R-36M UTTh (15A18) and was developed by the Yuzhnoye design team through December 1976. Its increasing accuracy of its guidance system made it possible to reduce the yield of the warheads. The R-36M UTTh was designed to carrying two different nose cones, a divided cone and a single RV version. The divided cone [variant-4] carried 10 warheads, an increase from 8. The single-RV version [variant-3] had a maximum range of up to 16,000 km. The flight-design tests of the R-36M UTTh began in October of 1977. In November 1979 deployment began of the SS-18 variant-3 with a single reentry vehicle outfitted with a warhead yielding 24-25 MT . The P-36MUTTh was introduced into the inventory in December 1979. A total of 24 were deployed in 1977, and all were eventually replaced by the variant 4 by 1984.

    SS-18 Variant 4 - R-36UTTh

    The SS-18 Variant 4 carries at least 10 MIRVs and was likely designed to attack and destroy ICBMs and other hardened US targets. According to Western estimates, the variant 4 may have been capable of carrying as many as 14 RVs [this may be a product of observations with the deployment of countermeasures intended to overcome ballistic missile defense, or to confuse American attack characterization systems]. By November 1979 the flight tests of the MIRVed missile were completed. Three regiments were put on alert by September 1979. During 1980 a total of 120 SS-18 variant 4 missiles were deployed, replacing the last remaining R-36 missiles. Through 1982-1983 the remaining R-36M missiles were replaced with the new R-36M UTTh. The total number of deployed missiles on operational launcher reached a maximum of 308, a ceiling established in the SALT-1 treaty. The SS-18 variant 4 force was believed to possess the potential capability to destroy 65 to 80 percent of US ICBM silos by placing two nuclear warheads against each of its US targets. Even after this type of attack, it was estimated that more than 1,000 SS-18 warheads would be available for further strikes against targets in the US. After 1988 the SS-18 Mod 4s were partially replaced by the new R-36M2 "Voivode".

    SS-18 Variant 5 - R-36M2 "Voivode"

    The SS-18 variant 5, a newer, more accurate version of the R-36M housed in converted silos allowing the SS-18 to remain the bulwark of the SRF's hard-target-kill capability. Variant 5 carries 10 MIRVs, each having a higher yield than the variant 4 warheads. The Mod-5 warheads have nearly twice the yield of the variant-4 (approximately 750 kt to 1 megaton). Russian sources suggest a yield of 550-750 Kt each. The increase in the variant 5's warhead yield, along with improved accuracy helped allow the Soviets to maintain their hard-target-kill wartime requirements even with the 50 percent cut in heavy ICBMs the START agreement required. The technical proposals to build a modernized heavy ICBM were made in June 1979 and was subsequently designated R-36M2 "Voivode" with the industrial index number 15A18M. The design of the R-36 M2 "Voivode" was completed in June 1982. The R-36M2 utilized a series of new engineering features. The second stage engine is completely integrated with the fuel tank (earlier this was only used on SLBMs). In addition, the design of the transport-launching canister was altered. Unlike the R-36M, the 10 warheads on the post-boost vehicle are located on a special frame in two circles. The flight tests of the R-36M2 equipped with 10 MIRVs began in March 1986 and were completed in March 1988. The first regiment with these missiles was put on alert on 30 July 1988, being deployed on 11 August 1988.

    SS-18 Variant 6 - R-36M2 "Voivode"

    The flight tests of a the R-36M2 missile (variant-6) carrying a single warhead with a yield of 20 MT were completed in September 1989 and deployment began in August 1991.

The only deployed versions of the SS-18 are the R-36M UTTh and R-36M2. In 1997 there were 186 deployed launchers for these missiles in Russia. The dismantling of 104 launchers located in Kazakhstan was completed in September 1996.

The Reagan and Bush administrations respected the SS-18 to such a degree that they made it the main focus of their arms control initiatives. The START II Treaty specifically banned land-based MIRV systems, in part, because of the threat the SS-18 posed to the balance of power. It was seen as a first-strike weapon and a very destabilizing presence in the bilateral relationship.

US negotiators allowed the Russian Federation to retain 90 of the SS-18 silos. After complying with the START II silo conversion protocol, the Russian Rocket Forces will be permitted to replace 90 of the SS-18s with a smaller, single-warhead missile. The protocol requires Russia to place a 2.9-meter restrictive ring near the top of the retained SS-18 silos and to fill the bottom five meters of the silos with concrete. These measures make the silos too small to hold an SS-18.

The Nunn-Lugar program is assisting in the reduction of the SS-18 missile threat to the United States. Under the START II Treaty the Russian Federation was required to eliminate 100 SS-18s by December 2001 and an additional 154 SS-18s by January 2003. In recent years, Nunn-Lugar has played a role in SS-18 dismantlement. It provided the equipment necessary to help destroy the missiles. A total of 204 of these missiles were deployed on Russian territory and 104 in Kazakhstan. The elimination base at Surovatikha, near Nijny-Novgorod, destroyed 32 missiles in 1993 with the remaining 44 destroyed in 1994. However, with the decision not to ratify the START II agreement, the requirement to eliminate these missiles lapsed.

The SS-18 was manufactured in Ukraine, while Russian enterprises provide maintenance for SS-18s which are currently in inventory. Manufacturing of SS-18s in Russia would be expensive, and could require 5 to 7 years of design work to begin at least tests at a cost of 8-10 billion rubles.

On 17 December 2003 Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, said the R-36 missiles "will serve Russia for another 10 to 15 years." Solovtsov had said previously that Russia would keep its arsenal of some 150 SS-18s on duty until 2016-2020, even though the missiles were past their designated lifetime and scheduled to be scrapped under earlier plans.



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