A Stronger, More Powerful Satan-2


Moscow is moving to replace its heaviest strategic missile – the R36M2 Satan, with a new liquid-propelled ICBM – RS-28 Sarmat. The need for a new missile is evident since its predecessor, the R-36 (SS-18) Satan that uses a liquid propulsion system designed and produced in Ukraine, that cannot be relied upon to support the weapon. Russian currently has 50 SS-18 Satan ICBM in service, all are R-36M2 (Voevoda) that can carry 10 independently targeted warheads (MIRVs), each with up to 1 megaton thermonuclear device. A single warhead variant with a yield of 20 megatons was retired under the New START nuclear disarmament agreement.

According to schedule, Sarmat should fully replace the Satan by 2020, but 2022 would be a more realistic milestone, given the delayed testing of the missile. The missile has yet to make a full launch. PDU-99, the propulsion system of the first stage was tested for the first time in October 2016, a year later, on December 28, 2017, a prototype of Sarmat performed a successful ejection test from a silo in the Plesetsk test range. An ejection test is not a full launch but limits the firing to the ejection gas generator pushing the missile from the silo to a height of about 30 meters above ground, where the missile’s rocket propulsion will fire to accelerate the missile on its course.

The silo-based Sarmat has a throw weight of 10 tons, enough to carry up to 24 individual bodies over a distance of up to 12,000 km – these can include up to 10 – 16 MIRVs of various types and yields. The actual number of MIRVs is determined by the composition of the missile’s load between actual warheads and decoys. Each of these warheads can maneuver to evade missile interceptors. There are indications that the Sarmat is also designed to carry its nukes in hypersonic glide vehicles, a new type of powered or unpowered reentry vehicles that can maneuver at hypersonic speed (above 5000 m/sec), while evading enemy interceptors and hit their target at much higher precision, compared with current reentry vehicles. Another advantage of Sarmat is its accelerated pre-launch procedure.

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Comparison of current Russian missiles – tactical and strategic ballistic missiles are included. Source: CSIS/