Monday, November 21, 2005

Topol-M: Missile Defense Penetrator

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times is reporting today on the new Russian Topol-M ICBM system with a maneuvering reentry vehicle. The missile booster flies a faster, flatter trajectory and has more opportunities to change course in flight because it spends more transit time in the atmosphere and less in suborbital space than typical reentry vehicles. The development of this capability is actually well known to observers. The technique is also employed on shorter range missile systems, such as the Tochka.

Here's a description of the Topol-M from my colleague, Michal Fiszer, from a feature article on US National Missile Defense (NMD) soon to be published on eDefense Online:

The most promising missile in the Russian inventory is the RT-2PM2 (also called RT-2PMU; 15Zh62 according to the GRAU designation system) Topol-M, known in the NATO as SS-27. Topol-M has the weight of 47.1 tons, the length of 22.7 m and the diameter of 1.86 m. The system also has very high accuracy: 180 m side error and 230 m error in distance. In 2006 there are to be 50 such missiles in service and it was also recently announced that first regiment (10 missiles) will be issued the mobile version of the missile. It is planned that 220 Topol-M missiles will be deployed through 2012, while older types (SS-18 and SS-19) will be withdrawn.

The missile's development started in 1991 at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology and confirmed by a decree from President Boris Yeltsin in February 1993. The design team was headed by Boris Lagutin and Yuri Solomonov. The first launch test took place on December 20, 1994. The first test of the mobile launcher (and 15th overall test) took place on April 20, 2004. Production at GPO "Votkinsky Zavod" in Votkinsk started in 1998. The first missile was declared ready on December 27, 1998. The system was officially accepted to service on April 28, 2000.

The Topol-M has three stages, with the first stage having three rocket motors developed by Federal Center for Dual-Use Technologies "Soyuz" in Moscow. This gives the missile a much higher acceleration than other ICBM types. It enables the missile to accelerate to a speed of 7,320 m/s and to travel through more flat trajectory to a distance of up to 10,000 km. The missile carry a single warhead but has a high throw weight: about 1,200 kg. This enables three warheads to be fitted, when necessary. Presently the capability is used to carry realistic decoys that have the same weight and radar cross section as the actual warhead. These decoys reenter atmosphere at the same speed and with a similar thermal signature as the actual warhead. Unlike "balloon" and "relector" decoys, the mock reentry vehicles are not stripped away by the atmosphere and remain effective through the terminal phase. Also, the decoys are probably able to maneuver, as the actual warhead can. The warhead and decoys are all covered with radar-absorbing materials (RAM) to make their signatures very low.

Reportedly, the warhead and decoys are also equipped with active-deception jamming systems, activated as soon as the thermal cover is dropped after decelerating in the atmosphere. The missile was developed to overcome eventual defense system under development by the US, but not all of the details were unveiled. Nevertheless, if the Topol-M works as described it will be able to overcome many of the discriminator and hit-to-kill technologies being developed for the US NMD. According to a statement by Sergei Ivanov, the Russian minister of defense, each Topol-M will have an 87% change of penetrating the GMD [Ground-Based Midcourse Defense --Ed.] system.

UPDATE: Thanks to Noah Shachtman of Defense Tech for the link to this post. Read more about the Topol-M there.

Also, the eDefense Online article on US National Missile Defense is up. I'll post an excerpt on Situational Awareness as a separate entry.


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