Moscow continues to keep tensions high over the potential use of nuclear weapons. In this context, today’s announcement. But what is the Sarmat missile and what is it capable of?
The RS-28 Sarmat is a heavy ICBM (Intercontinental ballistic missile), that has been developed since 2011 as a replacement for the previous R-36M, currently in the final phase of testing, and expected to be operationally availabile for Russian forces from November 2022.
The Sarmat has a range of approximately 18,000km and is designed to evade adversary missile defenses thanks to a climb phase shorter than its predecessors. Reached the suborbital zone it is able to release up to 15 nuclear warheads (MIRV – Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicle) or 24 Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) or a combination of warheads and several countermeasures against anti-ballistic missile systems. The system is basically designed to hit dozens of targets simultaneously with a single vector.
To defend the launch sites of the RS-28 Sarmat, the installation of the “Mozyr” system is planned. The system consists of a set of cannons that fire a “cloud” of small bullets, consisting of metal cylinders that at an altitude of 6 km high release 40,000 balls with a diameter of 3 cm. Such a system would serve to stop incoming cruise or ballistic missiles.
The Russian Ministry of Defense initiated the program in 2009 to replace the R-36 ICBM Voevoda and in direct response to the deployment of US GMD anti-missile systems and the Pentagon’s launch of the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) program. The development of the new device was decreed in 2010, and the related contract was signed in 2011 by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, of Miass, with the assistance of the NPO Mashinostroyeniya, and the Ministry of Defense. The main designers were the engineers V. G. Degtar and Y. Kaverin.
According to the designers, to hit the North American continent, and invalidate its anti-missile defenses, the new device would have used new flight paths. To ensure the survival of the weapon system, the expected launch preparation time is 1 minute, greatly reducing the likelihood of being hit in the silo by an enemy preemptive strike launched from submarines.
The RS-28 Sarmat is a two-stage liquid-propellant missile weighing over 200 tons at launch and with a payload of 10. The range is 18,000 km, with a carrying capacity of 15 nuclear warheads of 150 or 300 kt and 40 deception devices (penalty), or 24 hypersonic vehicles with Avangard load-bearing bodies.
To be clear, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, the two bombs that 77 years ago, on 6 and 9 August 1945, destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, irreversibly changing the course of history, were 15 and 21 kt respectively.
The use of non-nuclear warheads was also envisaged, which exploiting the enormous kinetic energy developed thanks to the hypersonic speed, would be used to hit command and control centers or aircraft carriers. The CEP (probability of circular error) is 5-10 meters. The engines of the first stage are the NPO Energomash PDU-99.
Fortunately, the missile is also designed for civilian use as a launch vehicle for satellites, and hopefully, it will be the only use we’ll ever see.