Russia conducted the first flight test of a new inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that Russian officials say is designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses.
The prototype ICBM was launched yesterday from Moscow’s Kapustin Yar missile range, a spokesman for Russian Defense Ministry told state media.
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U.S. and Russian officials describe the new missile as a road-mobile missile known as Yars-M that is slated for deployment later this year.
On Friday, Russian Deputy Premier Dmitri Rogozin said the new missile was designed specifically to defeat U.S. missile defenses—a key Russian priority for its strategic nuclear arms buildup.
"We closely watched last night's events. They were successful. We tested an intercontinental ballistic missile which I call ‘a missile defense killer,’" Rogozin was quoted by Interfax as saying. "Neither modern nor future American missile defense means will be able to stop this missile from hitting its target directly."
No details on the characteristics of the new missile were made public. However, U.S. officials said the new ICBM is believed to use a high-technology fuel that allows higher speeds needed to outfly high-speed U.S. missile defense interceptors.
The new ICBM will have a range of up to 6,835 miles and 10 multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles.
The new ICBM is a setback for President Barack Obama’s efforts to engage the Russians in a new round of strategic arms reduction talks. The president sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin several weeks ago that a Russian official said "addresses problems of military policy, including the missile defense and nuclear arsenals issues."
The new missile appears to be one of Moscow’s responses to plans by the United States and NATO to deploy missile defenses in Europe against Iranian missiles.
Russia is opposing the missile defenses, claiming they will be used to defeat Russian strategic offensive forces. The Obama administration has denied the defenses can or will be used to defeat the Russian strategic missile arsenal.
The Obama administration twice has made concessions to Russia on the defenses. First, it canceled a plan to place long-range missile defense interceptors in Poland in 2009. Then in March the Pentagon canceled a plan to deploy a ground-based version of the Navy’s SM-3 interceptor missile that is being designed to counter Iranian long-range missiles.
Rogozin said in a speech to Moscow’s Civil University that the military will continue building up a force "that will allow us to ensure our absolute freedom of action, should our country encounter any aggression."
"The Russian Federation's state weapons procurement program will set such parameters of weapons and military hardware that will only be linked with responding to the threat of sixth-generation wars," he said.
The strategic missile test comes as Russia has been conducting several Cold War-style strategic bomber incursions into U.S. air defense zones. Russia also announced recently that Moscow will resume ballistic missile submarine patrols.
The new ICBM is part of a major strategic nuclear buildup by Russia. In addition to the new road-mobile missile, Moscow is developing a rail-mobile ICBM, similar to the dismantled Soviet-era rail-mobile SS-24.
Russia also is building a new ballistic missile submarine that will carry new submarine-launched Bulava missiles, and a new strategic bomber to be deployed by 2020.
Another new strategic weapon is Russia’s new Kh-102 air-launched cruise missile and a new Kaliber submarine launched cruise missile under development.
Asked about the Russian ICBM test, Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said: "Our missile defense technology doesn't threaten the Russian strategic deterrent force in any way."
Igor Yegorov, a ministry spokesman for strategic missile troops, said the test was carried out at 9:45 p.m. Moscow time on Thursday (1:45 p.m. in Washington) from a "mobile launch system." The missile facility at Kapustin Yar is located near the southern Russian city of Volgograd.
"The launch has been recognized as successful; the combat payload arrived at Balkhash range at the scheduled time," Yegorov said. Balkash is an impact zone in Kazakhstan.
"The tasks of the launch were to receive confirmation that the characteristics of the missile system and of all its elements correspond to those described in the tactical and technical specifications, to ascertain the flight-technical characteristics of the missile and those of the units of the missile system in general, to experimentally ascertain the reliability of the operation of the missile system," said Yegorov.
It was reportedly the fourth test of the new missile.
The ICBM test comes as President Obama is set to approve a new plan for cutting U.S. strategic nuclear warheads called the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation study. The new plan will call for seeking a new round of strategic arms cuts with Russia aimed at cutting deployed strategic warheads to 1,000.
Under the 2010 New START arms treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to cut their deployed strategic warhead arsenals to 1,550 warheads. After the treaty was made public, it was disclosed that Russia had already reached that level and thus the treaty unilaterally cuts U.S. strategic forces.
A U.S. official familiar with strategic nuclear issues said the Obama administration is seeking to conclude a missile defense deal with Russia this month. The objective of that agreement is to pave the way for a future agreement between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce a new round of strategic arms cuts, possibly to begin in September or October.
Jack Caravelli, a former CIA specialist on Russia, said the new Russian ICBM may use a "depressed trajectory" flight to avoid or defeat missile defenses.
"Russian claims of having developed a new missile capable of penetrating current or future US missile defense may or may not be true," said Caravelli, now with the private intelligence firm Lignet.
Russia fears the United States may deploy large numbers of missile defense interceptors in the future with the theoretical capability to degrade a large-scale Russian missile attack on the United States, he said.
The Russians know such future deployments are unlikely but are probably hyping the new ICBM capability to "demonstrate the futility of any such large scale missile defense plan," Caravelli said.
Congressional Republicans are concerned that the administration will make its next arms pact an executive agreement to avoid another difficult treaty ratification fight, as occurred in 2010 with the New START treaty.
Secretary of State John Kerry, during his Senate confirmation hearing, did not rule out the use of an executive agreement for a new arms treaty.
One sign of impending strategy force cuts was the recent directive to the Air Force from the office of the secretary of defense to conduct an impact statement of dismantling an entire wing of U.S. land-based ICBMs. The current START treaty calls for no similar reduction in land-based missile forces.