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RT-2PM - SS-25 SICKLE (Nuclear ICBM System)
The RT-2 is a road mobile 3-stage, single warhead ICBM. Its 29.5 meter length and 1.7meter diameter are approximately the same size and shape as the U.S. Minuteman ICBM. It has a throw-weight of 1000 kg and carries a single warhead with a yield of 550 Kt and accuracy (CEP) of 900m according to Russian sources [as opposed to 300m according to Western sources]. Its road mobile capability gave the SS-25 an extremely high rate of survivability. It can fire from field deployment sites or through sliding roof garage bases. The SS-25 joined operational Soviet SRF regiments in 1985. A total area of approximately 190,000 square kilometers could be required to deploy a force consisting of 500 road-mobile SS-25 ICBMs. Mobile units require a much higher number of personnel for maintenance and operation than fixed systems. In turn, the SS-25 was significantly more costly to maintain and operate than silo launched systems.

The three stage solid propellant RT-2PM Topol became the first Soviet mobile ICBM to be successfully deployed. It was deployed after two decades of unsuccessful attempts by different design bureaus to create a reliable mobile launch system. It emerged from the same line of development as mobile missiles such as the SS-X-16 Temp-2S and the 'SS-20 Pioneer, and was deployed as a replacement for the widely deployed SS-11 SEGO.

All three stages are made of composite materials. First stage operation the flight control is implemented through four aerodynamic and four jet vanes. Four similar trellised aerodynamic surfaces serve for stabilization. During the second and third stage of flight gas is injected into the diverging part of the nozzle for flight control.

The missile is deployed in a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) canister mounted on cross-country 7-axle chassis on a mobile launch vehicle (see photo below). The chassis incorporates jacks, gas and hydraulic drives and cylinders, with a power of several hundred tons, for jacking and leveling of the launcher, speeding up (combat) and slowing down (maintaining) elevation of the container with the missile in the vertical position. The TEL is accompanied by a Mobile command post, carrying support facilities mounted on cross-country 4-axle chassis with unified vans. The complex is equipped with an onboard inertial navigation system which gives the TEL group the capability to conduct the launch independently from its field deployment sites. This topo-geodesic support and navigation subsystem, created by the "Signal" Research Institute, provides a quick and highly precise tie-in of the launcher in a field position and enables its crew to carry out missile launches from any combat patrol route point. The launch can also be carried out at regimental bases from the aforementioned garrison garage.

Development of the RT-2PM was approved on July 19, 1977 and carried out by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology headed by A. D. Nadiradzye. Flight tests were conducted on the Plesetsk test site from February through December 1985. The main problem that had to be overcome during this period was the development of battle management system. After the first test series was successfully conducted in April 1985, with the first regiment with Topol missiles put on alert in July 1985. Throughout this time work continued on improving the battle management system. The first regiment of "Topol"-missiles employing a modernized mobile command center (in area the of Irkutsk) were put on alert on 27 May 1988. The test missile firings were finally completed in December 1987.

At the time of the signing of the Start-1 treaty in 1991 the Soviet Union had deployed some 288 Topol missiles. Deployment continued, and at the end of 1996 a total of 360 Topol missiles were deployed.

The Topol missile was deployed at previously developed deployment sites. After the INF-Treaty was signed in 1987 several SS-20 Pioneer deployment sites were adapted to launch the SS-25 Topol missiles. The United States expressed specific concerns during the INF treaty negotiations. When the SS-25 missile system was deployed in the field, with its missile inside the canister and mounted on the launcher, the US contended that the canister might conceal an SS-20 missile. This was of concern because unlike the sigle warhead of the SS-25, the SS-20 carried up to 3 warheads. A resolution was reached after the Soviet Union agreed to allow inspection parties to use radiation detection systems to measure fast neutron intensity flux emanating from the launch canister. A launch canister with a missile inside containing a single warhead (SS-25) emitted a different pattern of fast neutrons than did one with a missile having three warheads (SS-20).

Provisions of the SALT-2 agreement prohibited the deployment of more than one new missile (which became RT-23UTTh), it was officially declared by the Soviet Union that the SS-25 Topol was developed to upgrade the silo based SS-13 RT-2P. The US government disputed this view, contending that the missile was clearly more than 5% larger and had twice the throw-weight as the SS-13 and therefore constituted a new misile system.

An SS-25 with two MIRVs may have been tested in 1991, and the missile was tested at least once with four MIRV warheads, but there has apparently been no further development of a multiple warhead version. This became a point of contention during the conclusion of the 1991 START negotiations, at which time the US pressed for a definition of "downloading" (removing warheads from missiles) that would complicate any Soviet attempt suddenly to deploy multiple warheads on the SS-25.

Russia plans to reequip approximately 400 silos where obsolete SS-11, SS-13 and SS-17 missiles are located. Under the START-II Treaty Russia is permitted to place 90 single- warhead solid fuel missiles in reequipped SS-18 ICBM silos. In order to guard against a break-out scenario involving the rapid reconversion of SS-18 silos on-site inspection became a very important aspect of Start II verification. In accordance with the Protocol on Procedures Governing Elimination of Heavy ICBMs and on Procedures Governing Conversion of Silo Launchers of Heavy ICBMs, US inspectors could either physically witness the pouring of the five meters of concrete in the bottom of the silo or measure silo depth before and after concrete was poured. The Treaty did prohibit placing a launch canister greater than 2.5 meters in diameter. The Russians have undertaken a concerted political commitment to deploy only a single-warhead ICBMs of the SS-25 type in these converted launchers. The possibility exists, however that Russia could further modify the converted SS-18 silos to enable them to launch a different missile than the one declared.

The breakup of the Soviet Union had a significant impact on the Topol program. The dispersed manufacturing of ICBM components serious complicated researching and building new missile systems For example the Minsk Wheeled Truck-Tractor Manufacturing Plant [MAZ] in Belarus manufactured the missiles' transporter launchers, and some 90% of the components of the guidance system were manufactured in Ukraine.

In Belarus, as of December 1995, 63 SS-25 ICBMs originally deployed there had been returned to Russia. As of December 1995, Belarus had two operational SS-25 mobile ICBM regiments remaining on its territory, with a total of 18 nuclear warheads. In July 1992, Belarus signed an agreement with Russia placing the regiments under exclusive Russian control. In September 1993, Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement requiring the return of these nuclear missiles and all related missile support equipment to Russia by the end of 1996. A total of 81 SS-25 ICBMs and associated warheads were returned to Russia from Belarus.

By the late 1990s the lack of resources and qualified personnel forced the Russian Navy to cut back operations considerably, with no more than one or two regiments of the mobile SS-25 missiles dispersed in the field. The remaining 40 or so regiments, each with nine single-warhead missiles, remain in garrison.

In February 2001, in a special test of operational readiness, the Strategic Missile Forces successfully launched a silo-based Topol ICBM at a target in the Kura range in Kamchatka. The Topol missile, the oldest of its type still in the Russian arsenal, was said to have performed flawlessly despite having outlived by 150 percent its operational period of service.

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Copyright 2008 Tony Rogers