Russia recently launched a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of carrying Multiple Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads, ostensibly intended to penetrate the U.S. ballistic missile defense system. The improved Topol-M missile launched on 29 May was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia. Its test warhead was reported to have landed on target about 3,400 miles down range on the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
The TOPOL-M - given the Soviet designation RS-24 and the NATO designation SS-27 - also has a submarine-launched variant known as the Bulava (NATO SS-N-30).The naval missile will be carried by the new submarines of the Borey class. Statements from Russian officials indicate that the Topol-M and Bulava are being upgraded with new warheads and other countermeasures (probably decoys) to counter the U.S. ballistic missile defense system now being deployed. If these missiles are specifically intended to overcome U.S. defenses, their warheads can be expected to have maneuvering re-entry vehicles, called MaRVs in the strategic lexicon.
MaRV warheads were developed by the United States during the Cold War in response to Soviet ballistic missile defenses, but were never installed on ICBMs.
The original land-based Topol-M missile was deployed in small numbers, probably because of technical problems and large cost overruns. The first Topol-Ms were placed in service in 1997. The land-based Topol-M now appears to be in production to replace obsolete (and questionably reliable) fixed-silo ICBMs left over from mid-Cold War era and eventually the SS-25, the Soviet-eras first generation land-mobile ICBM.
Similarly, the submarine-launched Bulava is apparently planned to replace the outdated missiles in the Soviet-era Delta IV class that remain in Russian service. The Topol was adopted for submarine use following cancellation of a new missile, the SS-NX-28, that apparently suffered massive technical problems.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia would continue to improve its nuclear weapons systems and respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. Following the ICBM test on 29 May, Russian news agencies reported First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov saying that the ICBM, as well as a tactical cruise missile that also was tested that day, can penetrate any missile defense system.
"As of today, Russia has new [missiles] that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems," ITAR-Tass quoted Ivanov. "So in terms of defense and security, Russian can look calmly to the country's future."
Ivanov is a former defense minister seen as a potential candidate to succeed Putin in next years national elections.