Russia has moved to update its nuclear arsenal with an extreme-range, massive payload ICBM designed specifically to defeat anti-missile systems. Capable of traversing the planet's poles and blowing up Texas in one hit, meet the RS-28 Sarmat, or Satan 2.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very clear about how he sees his country's situation. Circled by NATO forces and "oh no that's just for defending Europe from Iran" nuclear missile silos, he believes Russia's nuclear capabilities are threatened by a belligerent US foreign policy. "How can you not understand," he admonished a group of journalists recently, "that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction?"
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"Major global conflicts have been avoided in the past few decades, due to the geostrategic balance of power which used to exist … I don't know how this is all going to end. What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves and I even know how they will package this as 'Russian aggression' again. But this is simply our response to your actions. Is it not obvious that I must guarantee the safety of our people?"
Just a little sobering background, then, for today's announcement: Russia has released the first photos of its new intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-28 Sarmat, which has some truly extraordinary capabilities that are well worthy of its NATO nickname: Satan 2.
Weighing in at over 100 tons, the RS-28 will be a silo-launchable missile with extreme range capability. It's designed to be able to fly around the North or South poles, to attack targets from unexpected directions, with a maximum range around 10,000 kilometers (6214 miles). It's not slow, either, maxing out at more than Mach 20, or some 15,220 mph (24,500 km/h). That's about seven times faster than the SR-71 Blackbird ever went.
Its payload capacity is an enormous 10 tons, allowing it to carry up to 10 heavy warheads at a time, or massive amounts of missile defense countermeasures to help stop it getting shot down by anti-missile systems. In theory, according to Russia's Sputnik magazine, it could pack enough of a nuclear punch to destroy a land mass the size of Texas, or France, in one hit.
Satan 2 has been specifically designed to penetrate North American missile defense systems, and according to Russian officials it has been developed as a direct response to the USA's Prompt Global Strike system, which gives America the ability to deploy non-nuclear missile strikes anywhere on the planet within one hour.
The RS-28 project has been in the pipeline since contracts between the Russian government and the Makeyev Rocket Design bureau were signed in 2011. Originally expected to debut in 2020, timelines have been moved up to a 2018 deployment, and some sources are saying Russia expects the Satan 2 to constitute nearly all of Russia's land-based nuclear arsenal as soon as 2021.
Many of us are too young to remember what it was like living in the Cold War era, where nuclear tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA were at boiling point and the world seemed to be on the brink of apocalypse.
But behind the bizarro-world dog and pony show of the 2016 US elections there seems to be a very real sense that the world's two largest nuclear superpowers are getting ready to butt heads in a big way over a number of geopolitical hotspots - Syria being the biggest of the bunch.
Here's hoping common sense prevails, and this new era of nuclear brinksmanship ends the way the last one did – with a whimper, not a bang. And certainly not a bang the size of Texas.
Source: Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau (Russian)