- @DoctorNoFI via Twitter
On Sunday, Russian state-run media unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile: the RS-28 Sarmat, or the “Satan 2” as NATO calls it. The Satan 2 is due to replace Moscow’s current standby, the R-36, or “Satan.”
The new Satan 2 has largely the same capabilities as the Satan: Both missiles can reach the east and west coasts of the US, both can travel miles in a single second, many times the speed of sound, and both can carry multiple independently targetable warheads.
Both missiles also use a mixture of liquid fuel, a less stable, more volatile configuration than the US’s preferred solid-fuel weapons.
Neither missile can be stopped by the US’s existing missile defenses. But with the introduction of the Satan 2, the electronics, targeting, and reliability will noticeably improve over that of the older missile.
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“Russians love liquid fuel so much,” Lewis said in an interview with Business Insider.
“In the US, we don’t think liquid-fueled missiles are a great idea – they’re dangerous,” Lewis said. “One exploded in Arkansas and blew the silo top off and threw the warhead a far distance,” almost causing a disaster, Lewis added.
So why do the Russians prefer this dangerous fuel type?
“The advantage is, you can put a whole bunch of warheads on them,” Lewis said. Indeed, having multiple nukes on a single missile makes Russia’s nuclear arsenal very potent – but also destabilizing.
“If you put all your eggs in one basket (weapons on one missile), it makes a really tempting target,” Lewis said, adding that the US likes “to spread our missiles out across many missiles.” The US places its nuclear arsenal on individual missiles spread out across many bases and platforms.
Lewis said Russia was “terrible” with launching nuclear missiles from submarines, “so they do land-based missiles and make big commitments to land-based ICBMS.”
In fact, Russia’s commitment to these missiles may just be Moscow spinning its wheels, Lewis said.
“Russia has a number of missile-design bureaus, not just one,” he said. Each of these bureaus specializes in a different type of missile. This creates a situation in which the bureaus constantly dream up new missile ideas, and Russia sometimes takes them up on these proposals.
Lewis suggested that the new missile, with its limited improvements on the older system, may be not solely a strategic move but also a bureaucratic one. Russia may have simply seized this opportunity to again brandish its nuclear power at a time of peak tensions with the West.
But while Russia’s newest nukes have an absurd, diabolical offensive potential, they demand constant attention and protection. Actors looking to knock out Russia’s nuclear arsenal have fewer missiles to worry about neutralizing.
And for the Russians looking to maintain the nuclear arsenal, Moscow now has dangerous liquid-field missiles to maintain with costly maintenance for decades to come.