Days after announcing an unexpected delay in Russia’s new nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-28 Sarmat, Moscow released a new video showing off their ability to transport their older nuclear platforms through austere snowy environments. This video, while a bit understated compared to traditional Russian misdirection efforts, offers some interesting insight into the nation’s nuclear strategy.
Moscow seems intent on ensuring the world knows that despite their newest and most powerful missile hitting a development snag, the nation remains more than capable of competing on the nuclear stage. Showing off their ability to transport ICBM launch vehicles through difficult terrain and environments sends more than a message about the ready state of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, it actually gives a hint as to how a hypothetical conflict with Russia would likely play out.
The video opens with a group or Russian soldiers deploying a small drone that is undoubtedly meant to provide forward surveillance of the ICBM’s intended route. From there, it cuts to the ICBM convoy, made up of an 8×8 mobile transporter-erector-launcher, snow plow, armored security vehicles, command and control and communications vehicles.
The missiles in the convoy are one of Russia’s currently operational platforms, either the Topol-M or newer Yars (it’s hard to say based on the footage). The older of the two platforms carries a single 550 kiloton warhead while the newer boasts three warheads that each range from 150 to 200 kilotons. Both missiles have a range of about 6,800 miles, meaning either could be fired near Moscow and still hit targets in just about any place in America short of Hawaii.
The convoy’s trip through the snow wasn’t a casual decision. If the United States ever were to find itself amid a full-scale conflict with Russia, one of the nation’s top military priorities would be to neutralize Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Russia, of course, boasts the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, so America’s work would truly be cut out for it. It stands to reason that Cold War era silos have likely been largely identified through decades of surveillance, making stationary launch platforms an easier target than these mobile launch vehicles.
An aircraft carrier’s best defense against anti-ship missiles isn’t the sorties flown off its deck, but rather its continuous movement. Hitting a target 800 miles away that’s moving at 30 knots is a lot more difficult than hitting a stationary parking lot in the middle of the ocean. Likewise, targeting mobile ICBMs is far more difficult than neutralizing a permanent structure. First, you have to find the missile, then you have to engage it with special operations troops on the ground, ballistic missile, or aircraft.
The drone in this footage is meant to indicate a high level of situational awareness around the convoy — meant as a deterrent for special operators hidden in the woods, waiting to ambush the vehicles. The heavy security in the convoy speaks for itself as its role would be simple at a time of war: hold off American forces until the missile can be launched. Even the snow plow offers important insight into this strategy, demonstrating clearly that Russian equipment is not deterred by the harsh environments found throughout much of the nation’s rural territories. That means there’s a lot of space you have to cover in order to locate these moving targets.
The RS-28, also known as the X-30 Satan 2, is Russia’s latest and most advanced ICBM. The silo-launched, liquid-fueled platform has been touted by Russian officials as powerful enough to destroy a swath of land the size of “Texas or France,” using multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). All told, the Satan 2 lives up to its name — delivering a combined total of a 50 megaton payload. For perspective, 50 megatons is equivalent to 50,000 kilotons — the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima was only 15 kilotons. The most powerful American ICBM in service offers only around 335 kilotons.
It’s currently unclear what has caused the Sarmat’s delay, but it’s likely due to Russia’s stagnating economy limiting the program’s ability to rapidly overcome setbacks as they arise.