The chief of a secretive Russian military industrial corporation boasted to a Russian news agency that a new intercontinental nuclear missile it is helping to build cannot be stopped by proposed U.S. or European missile defenses.
Artur Usenkov, head of the firm Rosobshemash (Russian General Engineering), last week told ITAR-TASS that its unnamed replacement rocket for the aging SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, a project begun in 2009 and to be completed possibly as early as 2017, will get past any nuclear missile shield, the London Telegraph reported.
"This applies in the fullest sense to the USA's anti-missile defense system and to NATO's European missile defense system," Usenkov said. The SS-18 is the only heavy ICBM the original START treaty allowed Russia to deploy; its range encompasses the entire continental United States.
Equipped with 10 warheads, there are between 59 and 88 SS-18 silo launchers spread across Russian territory, the Telegraph's Moscow correspondent Andrew Osborn reported.
"They are capable of withstanding anything except a direct hit from a nuclear weapon," Osborn noted.
The development of the new ICBM comes in spite of the New START treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which calls for deep cuts in the nuclear
arsenals of both powers. Osborn said Usenkov's boast regarding the new Russian ICBM's capabilities went "largely unnoticed."
Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer last week wrote that
the Russian military claims it will keep SS-18s in use until 2026 "to keep a sufficient number of deployed warheads." Felgenhauer also noted that Yuri Solomonov, chief builder of many of Russia's nuclear missiles, "confirmed Russia's new ten year (2011-2020) armament program contains a clause about developing a new heavy liquid-fuel ICBM." Solomonov said that in 2012 or 2013 Moscow must make a "collective decision" on whether to go beyond "design research" regarding such a missile.
Seeking a missile that thwarts missile defense is nothing new for Russia's military. In December, 2009, Russia's then-Strategic Missile Forces chief, Lt. Gen. Andrei Shvaichenko, said Moscow planned by 2016 to replace the SS-18 by developing a new liquid-propellant ICBM that could carry 10 warheads. And as long ago as May, 2007, Moscow boasted that a test of its ten-warhead RS-24 "strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems."
Russia's legislature wants to amend the New START treaty with provisions allowing Russian "development, testing, production and deployment of new strategic offensive weapons, capable of penetrating" ballistic missile defenses. It also threatens a Russian unilateral withdrawal from the treaty if a missile defense against Russian nuclear missiles is successfully deployed.
The money for an effort as ambitious as an unstoppable ICBM is available; Vladimir Putin, Russia's powerful prime minister and former president, has promised over $670 billion in new spending on Russia's military in the course of the next decade.
Last month, Putin told CNN's Larry King that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and "put in place new strike forces" if Western missile defense installations created "additional threats" near Russia's borders.
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