Missile Tests Underscore Moscow’s Desire to Maintain Nuclear Deterrent

Missile Tests Underscore Moscow’s Desire to Maintain Nuclear Deterrent

On May 29, the Russian government very ostentatiously tested two different ballistic missiles, designated the RS-24 and R-500. The Russian media characterized both systems as new versions of existing missiles, modified to penetrate U.S. ballistic missile defenses (BMD) more effectively. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the former fefense minster, claimed that "these systems can beat any operational and future missile defenses."

According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the new RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile is simply a version of the road-mobile SS-25 Topol ("Sickle") that had been modified to carry up to 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), each with its own nuclear warhead. The original single-warhead SS-25 entered into operation with the Soviet armed forces in the mid-1980s.

RIA Novosti described the R-500 as a cruise missile adopted for use on a mobile Iskander-M launcher (SS-26), originally designed for tactical ballistic missiles. The R-500 has a range of only 280 km (170 miles), but its maneuverability could make it harder to intercept than a warhead flying a simple ballistic trajectory, such as those employed by the SCUD-based missiles of Iran and North Korea. One of its prime functions would be to help Russia attack the BMD system the Bush administration has proposed deploying in nearby Poland and the Czech Republic.

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