While Trump and Kim Jong Un have been occupying most nuke-themed headlines recently, Russia has been quietly preparing to test-launch a missile that’s been under construction since 2009. According to state media reports, it plans to do so by the end of the year.
“The main aim is to check the rocket’s systems at the moment of leaving the silo, the switching on of the Sarmat’s first stage and the following five seconds [of flight],” a source told Kommersant newspaper, reports The Times.
The 100-plus-ton ICBM has a range of 18,000 kilometers (or 11,185 miles), according to an article in Sputnik News, a government-controlled media outlet. If true, this means it has the potential to reach cities in Western Europe and along America’s East and West coasts.
The RS-28 Sarmat is capable of carrying 10 to 15 warheads and traveling at supersonic speeds, says Sputnik News. To put things into perspective, that would make it faster than the speed of sound.
It has also been reported that the ICBM is powerful enough to destroy land areas the size of Texas or France, and it’s been designed in a way that makes it undetectable to missile defenses.
But Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, the company who developed the missile, say it’s intended for defense purposes only. According to a statement on their website, “the Sarmat is designed to provide strategic Russian forces with a guaranteed and effective fulfillment of nuclear deterrence tasks.”
NATO nicknamed the missile “Satan 2” after the R-36M (the original “Satan”), the ICBM it will replace. The move is said to be part of a large-scale government rearmament program, first announced in 2010, to modernize the nuclear arsenal by 2020.
The tests have been delayed a number of times already.
Most reports on the ICBM come from Russian-controlled news sites, which may not be entirely objective, so many experts are skeptical that it is quite as scary as is being reported.
As Michael Kofman, a scientist from the Center for Naval Analyses, explained in an interview with The National Interest: “There are large questions outstanding about conflicting claims about throw-weight, warheads and penetration aids” that are “mutually inconsistent”.