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Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-3 to SS-8

By Sakhal

From the mid 1950s the Soviet Union had in service their first strategic missiles. Albeit Soviet strategic missiles were destined to European targets as well, the biggest effort was put in the construction of powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles which from their emplacements in the Soviet Union could reach any place in the United States.

This history begins with the mid-range ballistic missile SS-3 "Shyster", which represented the first Soviet significant advance posterior to the German A-4, which they used as basis for their first ballistic missiles. Not only it was completely Soviet in the practice, but also it entered service in such early date as 1955. Initially the project preserved the German technology of liquid oxygen and alcohol, but later, circa 1959, it was changed the alcohol by kerosene, the missile had a sole combustion chamber and the exhaust blades were replaced by aerodynamic rudders. The pointy nose cone could be equipped with either a conventional or a nuclear warhead. This missile was seen for the first time the 7th November 1957 in the military parade at Moscow's Red Square; the missile, completely assembled, was towed on an articulated towing by a 415-horsepower half-track AT-T, in which the launching crew consisting of 16 members was housed. This missile had a length of about 21 meters and a launching weight of 26 tonnes, while range reached 1200 kilometers.

Since 1961, the parades at Red Square often included a new missile, the mid-range ballistic SS-4 "Sandal", equipped with inertial guide from 1962 at least, while, possibly, the initial exemplars were equipped with guide by radio, as in the SS-3. The SS-4 had a simple monohull structure made of aluminum alloy - with a length of 22.4 meters and a diameter of 1.65 meters -, a conical atmospheric-reentry vehicle and skirts for the exhaust flames. Launching weight was about 28 tonnes. This was the first Soviet operative missile that used storable liquid propellant. The engine had four fixed combustion chambers fed by a common turbo-pump; it was very similar to the GDL RD-214 engine used for the first phase in the Cosmos satellite launchers. The engine was fed by red fume nitric acid (RFNA) and kerosene and it had a thrust load of 74 tonnes. The control of the missile was made by four exhaust blades and four aerodynamic rudders. Explosive charge power was estimated in one megaton and a conventional warhead was also available. The full weapon system included about twelve vehicles and 20 operators required for the operations of erecting and launching the missile. The SS-4 entered service with the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force in 1959 and from 1963 until the mid 1980s about 500 of them were deployed, mainly in central Asia threatening China. Many of them were semi-mobile and others were launched from silos. In 1962 this missile was at the core of the Cuban Crisis, when President Kennedy opposed to the installation of such missiles by the Soviets in the Cuba of Fidel Castro, forcing Kruschev to desist. The missiles, stored in containers above the deck of a Soviet ship named Bratsk, were destined to the Cuban dock at Mariel. If they would have been deployed in Cuba, the range of the missiles - a maximum of 1800 kilometers - would have allowed to threaten the south of United States. This one blocked then Cuba with its fleet and the Soviet ships turned back before being intercepted.

The SS-5 "Skean" was a logical development of the SS-4 in larger scale, a longer and considerably thicker missile to the point of placing itself in a superior category, the one of the intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM). Its first flight took place in the late 1950s, being deployed by the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force before 1964, year in which its existence was revealed to western observers during the well known parade at Red Square. The 11th May 1965, the Soviet Union celebrated with an extraordinary parade the 20th anniversary of the victory over Germany; in the parade two of these missiles were displayed advancing side to side, towed by two large 8 x 8 tractors MAZ-535, then recently introduced. The SS-5 was one of the first Soviet ballistic missiles that suppressed the aerodynamic tails. It also incorporated a reentry vehicle with blunt nose whose radius was about 150 millimeters. The engine was the GDL RD-216 of double chamber or a very similar model, fed by storable liquid propellants (most probably RFNA and kerosene) and developing a thrust load of 90 tonnes. The control of the missile was effectuated by exhaust blades in both nozzles. The guide system was of inertial type and the power of the warhead was estimated in one megaton. The SS-5 was installed in silos and about a hundred were still deployed in the 1980s, mainly in the facilities of mid-range ballistic missiles located in the west of the Soviet Union, from where they threatened West Europe with their range estimated in 3500 kilometers. With a second phase that was ignited when the first one had ended its combustion, the SS-5 launched some of the largest military satellites Cosmos, such as the number 655 and 611. Since the late 1970s, the SS-5 were being replaced by the more advanced SS-20, fitted with three reentry vehicles each. The SS-5 had a length of about 25 meters, a diameter of 2.44 meters and a launching weight of about 60 tonnes.

Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-3 to SS-8

The SS-5 missile compared with the MAZ-535 8 x 8 tractor used to tow it.

The SS-6 "Sapwood", successfully tested in August 1957, was the first Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and one of their better known models. In its time it represented a quantitative advance in the Soviet development of ballistic missiles, albeit in some way it was also a manifestation of "brute force and ignorance", destined to provide a very powerful launcher able to put the massive thermonuclear warheads of the first generation into intercontinental trajectories (range was estimated to reach at least 10000 kilometers). Since the Soviets lacked large rocket engines, the obvious response to achieve their objective was the sum of many small engines, to the point that for the launching the SS-6 required 32 engines to be simultaneously ignited, all of which were fed with liquid oxygen and kerosene. The central body of the missile was propelled by four fixed combustion chambers, which formed an RD-108 ensemble and provided an overall thrust of 96 tonnes, later increased to 102. Around this central core there were another four propelling compounds, fitted each of them with another four nozzles in identical ensemble. The remaining 12 rockets were groups of small Vernier director engines installed in orientable mountings and destined to the good control of the trajectory. There were four Vernier engines in the central body and another two in each of the other four structures. The overall structure had a length of 30.5 meters and a maximum diameter of 2.95 meters. The weight of the mere structure was about 28 tonnes while launching weight reached about 295-300 tonnes. The complexity of the system indicated that the availability of such weapon system should be, presumably, very low. In fact, when the SS-6 reached operative status in 1959 it was already recognized as an obsolete weapon and many of the existing ones were used as space launchers. In this task its role was much more brilliant, reaching historical dimensions when, the 4th October 1957, it managed to put into orbit the first artificial satellite of the Earth, the Sputnik I, which inaugurated the Space Age. Another SS-6 put into orbit the first cosmonaut, pilot Yuri Gagarin, the 12th April 1961. The missile was used as well as first phase of launchers of Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod and Soyuz.

In the late 1970s still remained in service some of the formidable ICBMs SS-7 "Sadler", whose number in the mid of the decade reached a total of 190 exemplars. They were never exhibited in the parades at Red Square, but they were submitted to an exhaustive trials program, entering service as the first "normal" Soviet ICBM to the point of constituting the backbone of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force during their first years. This one was a two-phase ballistic missile - similar to the American Titan -, which was propelled by storable liquid propellant (most probably RFNA and kerosene) and which was believed to have a radio-inertial guide system when it entered service in 1961. Later it could have been improved to have a totally inertial guide system, since the launching facilities of the final three fourth parts of the production lacked non-protected surface installations. Instead, the missiles were deployed in protected silos of impressive size of which American reports distinguished three different models. The power of the explosive charge was estimated in no less than 20-25 megatons. Their length reached 31.8 meters and the diameter 2.8 meters, with a launching weight estimated in 102 tonnes and a range of about 11000 kilometers.

Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-3 to SS-8

The SS-8 missile compared with the MAZ-537 8 x 8 tractor used to tow it.

Years later after being seen for the first time in the parade at Red Square in 1964, American offical literature invariably related the SS-8 "Sasin" with the SS-7, implying technical similarities between both systems. Actually, their only connections were geographical ones. The few SS-8 built were emplaced in their totality, apparently, in emplacements where the SS-7 was present. The technology of the SS-8 was similar to the one of the SS-5, but in an enlarged scale. It was shorter than the SS-7 (24.4 meters) but its diameter was similar (2.74 meters). Launching weight was about 77 tonnes and range about 10500 kilometers. As in previous designs, the fuel was constituted by some kind of storable liquid propellant (most probably RFNA and kerosene) and control would be effectuated by four large exhaust blades, which had been removed from the exemplars seen in 1964. Said missiles - two units - had as well large circular covers above the base of the first phase, indicating a high probability of a sole and large combustion chamber. The second phase had notable protrusions above what surely were the detachment engines. Every phase had an external instruments duct, along the upper part of the sections containing the fuel deposits. The power of the nuclear warhead was estimated in five megatons and guide was of inertial type. In the parade of 1964 the transporter was of great interest: the new 8 x 8 tractor MAZ-537, which towed an articulated towing with three wheel axes on which the missile lied. That suggested that the missile could be transported with its fuel deposits filled. The number of deployed units was very discuted. Initially, the American estimation of 209 SS-7 and SS-8 was interpreted as corresponding to the existence of 100 and 109 of them respectively; in 1975, the correct numbers were, apparently, 190 and 19. In any case, these 19 SS-8 were deactivated and replaced by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).

Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-3 to SS-8

Categories: Missiles - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-07

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