Shortly after completion of the ZAPAD (West) 2017 exercises, which reportedly involved tens of thousands of Russian and Belussian troops, the Kremlin launched a large-scale Strategic Missile Forces exercise, which took place near Novosibirsk.
Over 400 pieces of hardware and over 4,000 troops participated in the exercise.
A message on the Russian Ministry of Defense’s web site said that Strategic Missile Forces deployed approximately 20 RS-24 Yars missile systems (NATO reporting name: SS-29) in battle ready status. Further, the message stated that these units drilled placing missile systems on combat patrol routes, repositioning, camouflaging, and screening patrols; however, the message did not mention the time period of the exercise.
But a further analysis of that drill by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that more than 20 units of intercontinental ballistic missile systems also participated.
The 33rd Guards Missile Army’s 39th Guards Missile Division is based just outside of Novosibirsk. According to various sources, the unit deploys 27 Yars missile systems, which coincides with the MoD’s official statement regarding the exercise of “over 20 pieces of Yars systems.”
The SS-29 systems are believed to be the most modern, sophisticated ICBMs in the Russian nuclear arsenal. Each Yars missile carries at least six independently targetable warheads with a yield between 100–300 kiloton. And with a range of some 12,000 km (~7500 miles) it can easily strike all NATO territories.
The analysis by the DFRL also noted that Iskander (SS-26 Stone) missiles were participating in the exercise, as well. As of 2017, the Russian Army reportedly has 112 of these missile systems operational. It has a range of about 400 km (~250 miles) and can carry a single nuclear warhead. The Iskander was designed to overcome air defense systems.
Analyst comment: Russia obviously was less than transparent about these latest tests of nuclear-capable missiles that can strike anywhere in the world, which isn’t shocking, per se. What is more notable is the size and sophistication of the drills themselves. If Moscow wanted to send messages it would have been far more transparent about what it was doing, but being more secretive also means failures don’t get publicized, either.
In order to match U.S. and NATO technological superiorities, Russia has to have a fully-functional nuclear deterrent.
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