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With a maximum speed of 25,500 km/h, the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) weighing more than 200 tons is the biggest, heaviest, and fastest weapon system in the world. It officially entered combat service in 2023.
According to Sputnik News, “The RS-28 Sarmat is Russia’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is set to become the backbone of the country’s silo-based strategic deterrent. With its impressive range and destructive power, the Sarmat is considered one of the deadliest nuclear missiles in the world.”
What makes it even scarier is the fact that it can carry 10 or more nuclear warheads – far more than the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. RS-28 Sarmat has an explosive power of up to 500 kilotons, capable of flattening cities much bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were wiped out by bombs packing 15 and 21 kilotons, respectively.
In addition to the above, RS-28 Sarmat can release metallic decoy objects to confuse the enemy radars and missile defence systems.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have a crucial role to play in modern warfare and prove to be battle-winning factors because of their ability to deliver nuclear or conventional payloads over long distances. These make the study of their technical characteristics both fascinating and essential. A prominent feature of the RS-28 Sarmat is its short initial launch phase which leaves little time for enemy surveillance systems to track its takeoff.
Codenamed “Satan-2” by the NATO armed forces, the RS-28 Sarmat missile is a formidable projectile that has the potential to change the course of history. The RS-28 Sarmat missile is expected to replace the aging R-36M2 Voyevoda missile, which has been in service since the 1970s. The R-36 (SS-18 Satan) is the original Satan; hence, its successor RS-28 Sarmat is called Satan-II.
According to Russian president Vladimir Putin the Sarmat missile is a “truly unique weapon” that will ensure his country’s security from external “threats”. He went on to add that the RS-28 Sarmat would make Russia’s enemies “think twice”. Significantly, Putin was addressing Russian military academy graduates shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In this article, we will delve into the technical features of the RS-28 Sarmat by examining its massive size, blistering speed, and impressive range.
RS-28 Sarmat – how the beast evolved
The development of the RS-28 Sarmat began in the early 2000s as part of Russia’s efforts to modernise its strategic missile forces. The need for a new ICBM was driven by the aging of existing missile systems. The RS-36M was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain hence its retirement was long overdue.
Size: The Giant is born
To appreciate the RS-28 Sarmat’s technical capabilities fully, one must first reckon with its sheer size. This monstrous missile is a behemoth in the world of ICBMs, and its dimensions alone are awe-inspiring.
The RS-28 Sarmat towers above its predecessors and rivals. It boasts a length of approximately 35 meters (115 feet), making it significantly longer than most other ICBMs. This impressive length isn’t just for show; it accommodates the missile’s large payload capacity, a feature critical to its strategic versatility.
The missile’s diameter is equally imposing, measuring around 3 meters (10 feet). This substantial girth provides the necessary space for its propulsion systems, guidance systems, and multiple warheads. The RS-28 Sarmat’s designers have capitalised on this expansive body to create a weapon that can carry a variety of warheads, including advanced hypersonic glide vehicles, allowing it to adapt to different mission profiles.
The size of the RS-28 Sarmat isn’t merely a matter of optics or prestige. It directly influences its operational capabilities. A larger missile can carry a more extensive payload, which can include multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). MIRVs enable the missile to deliver several warheads to separate targets with precision. This flexibility enhances its effectiveness as a strategic deterrent.
The significance of the RS-28 Sarmat’s size lies in its ability to carry a payload commensurate with the modern geopolitical landscape. Its towering stature underscores Russia’s intent to maintain a robust second-strike capability, ensuring that even in the event of a nuclear exchange, it can retaliate with devastating force.
Speed: Hypersonic Velocity
While the RS-28 Sarmat’s size is indeed imposing, it is the missile’s speed that truly makes it a technological marvel. The RS-28 Sarmat is classified as a hypersonic weapon, capable of traveling at astonishing velocities that defy interception.
The term “hypersonic” denotes speeds greater than Mach 5, which is five times the speed of sound. However, the RS-28 Sarmat doesn’t just reach Mach 5; it surges past it with ease, likely reaching speeds in excess of Mach 20, or more than 15,000 miles per hour. This incredible velocity is a defining characteristic of ICBMs, as it enables them to reach their targets swiftly.
Achieving such high speeds requires advanced propulsion systems and materials that can withstand the intense heat and forces generated during the missile’s ascent. The RS-28 Sarmat employs a combination of liquid and solid rocket propulsion systems, enabling it to accelerate rapidly and maintain hypersonic speeds throughout its flight.
The role of speed in an ICBM cannot be overstated. It drastically reduces the time available for enemy defenses to react and intercept the missile. Traditional ballistic missile defenses, such as ground-based interceptors, struggle to keep pace with hypersonic targets. This makes the RS-28 Sarmat an exceptionally challenging threat to counter, reinforcing its role as a potent strategic deterrent.
Additionally, the missile’s speed enhances its survivability. Rapid transit through the Earth’s atmosphere minimises the risk of neutralisation during the boost phase. This means that, even if an adversary were to detect and attempt to intercept it at launch, the RS-28 Sarmat’s hypersonic speed gives it a high probability of reaching the intended target.
Range: Reaching Distant Shores
Size and speed are undoubtedly impressive, but a missile’s range is the ultimate determinant of its strategic value. The RS-28 Sarmat does not disappoint in this regard, boasting an intercontinental range that allows it to cross vast distances.
The exact range of the RS-28 Sarmat remains a closely guarded secret, with various estimates circulating in defense circles. However, it is widely believed that the missile can reach targets well over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) away. This intercontinental range means that the RS-28 Sarmat can strike targets on the other side of the globe with precision.
The significance of such a range becomes apparent when considering the geopolitical landscape. It enables Russia to target distant adversaries, including potential rivals or threats, with a high degree of accuracy. The RS-28 Sarmat’s range places major cities, military installations, and critical infrastructure within its reach, underscoring its role as a strategic deterrent.
Moreover, this extended range contributes to the RS-28 Sarmat’s utility as a second-strike weapon. In the event of a nuclear attack on Russia, the missile can be launched from its home territory or from mobile launchers, ensuring that even if primary launch facilities are compromised, the ability to retaliate remains intact.
The RS-28 Sarmat’s range, in combination with its speed and payload capacity, presents a formidable threat that demands consideration in international security discussions. It represents a crucial component of Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy and reinforces its position as a nuclear superpower.
Conclusion: The RS-28 Sarmat’s Destructive Power
In the realm of ICBMs, the RS-28 Sarmat is a testament to human ingenuity and engineering prowess. Its massive size, hypersonic speed, and intercontinental range make it a formidable weapon, capable of delivering multiple warheads with precision to distant targets. Its technical sophistication underscores its role as a linchpin in Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy.