Although a great deal of attention has been focused on Russia’s Zapad ’17 exercises in and around the nation of Belarus in recent weeks, the Russian military machine has been working at full steam back in the homeland as well.  For the first time since 2014, Russia conducted not one, but two Intercontinental Ballistic Missile test launches in the past two weeks, one fitted with what the Russian Defense Ministry referred to as an “experimental warhead.”

A test launch of a Yoshkar-Ola missile division RS-24 Yars solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, equipped with a detachable warhead, arrived at the designated area on the Kura test range on the Kamchatka Peninsula at the state-owned Plesetsk Test Space Cosmodrome,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement earlier this week. “All the tasks were fulfilled in full.”

Russian defense analysts have linked these two recent ICBM test launches to the Zapad military exercises held elsewhere in the world, suggesting that the combination of offensive and defensive operations near the NATO controlled Baltic region and the ICBM test launches indicate a larger overall military drill strategy that emulates large-scale war with NATO.

Russia has been conducting an annual large-scale exercise of its strategic forces in October, but this one appears to be linked to the large Zapad-2017 exercise that was completed today,” Russian nuclear forces expert Pavel Podvig explained on the website: Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces blog.  “It is worth noting that before the launch the missile crews practiced ‘relocation of the missile launcher to a remote launch area.’”

Relocating an ICBM to a remote area before launch is an important countermeasure intended to prevent enemy forces from being able to target and destroy missiles before they are fired.  The solid fuel utilized in Russia’s RS-24 Yars missile also means it can be deployed quickly, with no need to stay stationary for the lengthy fueling process that can tip-off overhead satellites of an impending attack.  Some have speculated, however, that the second test may have been on the new Sarmat ICBM design, which Russian officials have boasted can defeat U.S. missile defenses and destroy an area “the size of Texas.”

The Sarmat is the latest Russian ICBM, which was unveiled last year to much fanfare.  According to Russian defense officials, it was “designed to provide strategic Russian forces with a guaranteed and effective fulfillment of nuclear deterrence tasks.”

“The main purpose of the launch was to reaffirm the reliability of a batch of the same class missiles,” the Russian Defense Ministry said of the first test.  It isn’t uncommon for a nation to test its long-range ballistic missiles, as the United States did this year as well.  However, the mysterious “experimental warheads” deployed in the second recent tests has been cause for concern among Western analysts.  Some have speculated that the warheads may deploy maneuverable reentry vehicles or MARVs, which are designed specifically to outmaneuver missile defense systems like those employed by the United States.

“The experimental warheads reached the designated area at the Kura proving ground in the Kamchatka Peninsula. The targets were met and tasks accomplished in full.” The Defense Ministry concluded without elaboration.