Putin Inspects Russia’s New, Less Vulnerable Mobile Missile

Putin Inspects Russia’s New, Less Vulnerable Mobile Missile

MOSCOW -- On Dec. 14, President Vladimir Putin flew by helicopter to personally inspect Russia's first Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) unit equipped with the new mobile Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Three mobile Topol-Ms entered into operational deployment with the SMF division based in the town of Teikovo, about 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, on Dec. 10.

Russia's political and military leaders have long awaited the coming of the road-mobile Topol-M. The Votkinsk Machine-Building Plant manufactures both silo-based and road-mobile versions of the missile. Russia began deploying silo-based versions of the Topol-Ms in 1997 and now has about 45 of them in operation. The mobile Topol-M had a very successful test program, experiencing only one failure out of over a dozen launches before its formal flight trials ended in December 2004. Nevertheless, production problems delayed its entry into operational service with the SMF until a few weeks ago.

Compared with the silo-based version of the Topol-M, the mobile version is better protected against a potential adversary first strike since its location at any one time is less predictable. According to Yuri Solomonov, its chief designer, the Topol-M is also less vulnerable to foreign ballistic missile defenses because it drops its engines at a significantly lower altitude than earlier designs, making it hard for an enemy early warning system to detect its launch. Furthermore, Solomonov claims that, while flying through outer space, the missile's decoys closely resemble its warhead, further challenging adversary defenses. The Topol-M also supposedly is immune to the debilitating effects of the electromagnetic pulse that results from nuclear explosions.

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