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Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-9 to SS-15


By Sakhal

From the mid 1960s, United States interrupted the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). But during the fifteen years following that time, the Soviet Union put in service more than half a dozen of new ICBM, which in some cases - specially the SS-18 - were terrifying weapons whose power greatly surpassed the one of any other known weapon. In the beginning of the 1980s, while in United States it was intensely debated the construction of a new ICBM - the MX -, the Soviet Union had in development five new projects of similar strategic weapons.

SS-9 Scarp

The 7th November 1967, the Soviet Union caused a shiver among western observers, when presenting in the parade at Red Square some of the first exemplars of the SS-9 "Scarp", which was then the largest and most powerful weapon serially produced in History. Its development had started in 1959 as a much more capable successor of the SS-6 "Sapwood", with two phases in tandem, propellant of storable liquid fuel and a clean configuration of single tube. Probably it used RFNA/kerosene and the first phase had a ring with six fixed combustion chambers, plus four Vernier engines in orientable mountings, controlling the trajectory and adjusting cut speed in the moment of being detached the phase. The second phase had a fuel tank of the same diameter than the first one, but then it narrowed until reaching a large reentry vehicle of blunt end. This one had its own propulsion system, adding so a third phase to this huge rocket. The trial flights effectuated with the SS-9, between 1963 and 1965, were so long and precise that they caused uneasiness in United States, and when in 1965 it was started the deployment in huge underground silos, this missile caused such alarm as the new fighter aircraft MiG-23 "Foxbat" of which it was said that could fly at 3200 kilometers/hour. Only later it was known that its correct denomination was MiG-25 and that its maximum speed was limited to 2950 kilometers/hour at high altitude (2.8 Mach). In later years, the United States Defense Department identified five development phases of the SS-9, which were described as it follows:

Model 1, the original ICBM, with a first-generation silo and a 20-megaton warhead. Model 2, the model produced in largest quantities, with a 25-megaton warhead, in that time the most powerful ever installed in any missile. The SS-9 Model 2 had a length of about 36 meters and a diameter of about 3.1 meters, a launching weight of 190000 kilograms and a range of more than 12000 kilometers. Model 3, which flew in low trajectories, sacrificing range to reduce the warning time of enemy radars. This same model was planned for the FOBS (Fractional Orbital Bombing System) missions. The first test of this program was effectuated by means of the satellite Cosmos 139 the 25th January 1967 and it was followed by many others, a large part of which by means of satellites placed in an orbit of 49.5 degrees of inclination. Model 4, with three reentry vehicles, used for tests in 1969-70 and 1973, with the three nuclear warheads making impact with the same effect than three silos of a typical facility of Minuteman missiles of the United States Air Force. Model 5, launched from the facilities at Tyuratam - Central Asia - and fitted with anti-satellite nuclear warheads, against targets placed in orbit from Plesetsk by means of a series of launching vehicles derived from the SS-5.

Towards 1975-76 there were 313 operative silos of SS-9 with the Strategic Rocket Force. When entering in service the even larger SS-18, the SS-9 were retired. In the late 1970s they were being used for testing and training programs. This desactivation was a consequence of the SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaty, which limited Soviet and American ICBM. The SS-9 was the first Soviet missile that in the mid 1960s reunited fearsome characteristics of power and precision.

SS-10 Scrag

Two of these large ICBM took part in the parade at Red Square of the 5th May 1965, towed by tractors MAZ-537 and carried in towings similar to the ones used for the SS-9. Compared to this one, the SS-10 resulted less "attractive", because it used cryogenic propellants of liquid oxygen/kerosene, preventing the storage in silos for a long time, with the tanks filled for immediate availability. In its first apparition, the Russian official commentator described it as brother of the rockets Vostok and Voskhod, but that would be hardly true. A creditable characteristic is that the first phase had orientable nozzles, a great innovation in that time for the large Soviet rockets. The two upper phases had single nozzles, with unspecified means for thrust vector control. The armatures between phases were built without protection of an external cover in the separation cavities, technique that would be repeated in some subsequent Soviet missiles. The SS-10 did not enter service and it could have been more of a help for the development of the SS-18. The SS-10 had a length of about 38 meters and a diameter of 2.74 meters, a launching weight of about 170000 kilograms and a range of about 12000 kilometers.

Note from the author/translator: A certain photograph showed two SS-10 towed by tractors MAZ-535, allegedly in the parade at Red Square of the 7th November 1968 (possible mistake in the description of these events).

SS-11 Sego

Similarly as the SS-7, this missile was never positively identified in any public parade, albeit in the parade at Red Square of the 7th November 1973 two tractors MAZ-537 appeared towing a new model of articulated towing carrying cylindrical containers with flat ends of a size suitable for housing the SS-11; some observers thought that these could be the first tubes able to perform a cold launching. This was the missile which during twelve years was threatening in largest scale all the western capitals and important industrial centers. The extent of its deployment was large enough to keep the interpreters of aerial photographs constantly busy studying the improvements and modifications in the silos, all of them emplaced in the periphery of the Soviet Union. The SS-11 was somewhat longer than the Minuteman of the United States Air Force, but much thicker, carrying a much larger payload. The study of the alleged containers of SS-11 generated a controversy about the technique of cold launching - which allows the reutilization of a silo by other missiles after the first launching -, and some reports included this as a characteristic of the SS-11. But it was doubtful the certainty of that affirmation as well as the container being installed in the silo.

The SS-11 had two phases whose propulsion was effectuated by a storable liquid fuel, the first of which had four orientable nozzles. The denominated Model 1 had a single reentry vehicle that could carry any of two different nuclear warheads: one of 500 kilotons and a thermonuclear one of 20-25 megatons. After long trials, this model reached operative status in 1966 and in 1972 the SALT I treaty comprised 970 silos, along with other 66 that were being built. The Model 2 was - according to the publication Jane's Weapons Systems - a Model 1 to which aids to the penetration were added; according to the magazine Flight International, it was a more precise reentry vehicle, but not recently tested in flight; and for K.W. Gatland - author of The Soviet War Machine -, it was a non operative testing vehicle. The Model 3 was the first Soviet ICBM in having multiple reentry vehicles. The first test of the system - with three reentry vehicles - was detected in 1969. At least 60 units of the Model 3 were emplaced in silos in 1978 and the power of each one of their three nuclear warheads was 300 kilotons. In that year the SS-11 were being replaced by the SS-17 and SS-19. In 1983 about 570 missiles SS-11 remained deployed. The 60 exemplars emplaced in silos were being replaced by SS-19, which occupied the same silos. The SS-10 had a length of about 19 meters and a diameter of about 2.44 meters, a launching weight of about 48000 kilograms and a range of about 10500 kilometers.

SS-13 Savage

Almost certainly, this was the first Soviet large missile that used solid propellant. It had three phases linked by uncovered armatures, each one with four nozzles for thrust vector control. It was developed in parallel with the SS-11, albeit it was smaller and more alike to the Minuteman III. It was shown in the parade at Red Square of the 9th May 1965 and it reached operative status in 1968. Since then, about 60 exemplars remained in service with the Strategic Rocket Force in the vicinity of Plesetsk. The SS-11 had much larger payload and precision and the development of the SS-13 apparently was ended before 1970. There was not known version of this vehicle fitted with multiple reentry vehicles (albeit there were some reports about this) and the power of its only nuclear warhead was estimated in one megaton. It was believed that the two phases of this missile were used to form the SS-14 and speculation existed about if the very SS-13 had been deployed in mobile systems. Its successor should have been the SS-16, but due to the SALT treaty this one was never deployed. At the beginning of the 1980s the force of SS-13 deployed comprised 60 exemplars. The SS-13 had a length of about 20 meters and a diameter of about 1.7 meters in the first phase, a launching weight of about 35000 kilograms and a range of about 8000 kilometers.

Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-9 to SS-15

It was believed that the SS-13 was the only Soviet strategic missile of its generation using solid fuel.

SS-14 Scapegoat (Scamp)

For some unknown reason, the Coordination Committee of the NATO awarded two codenames to this weapon: "Scapegoat" for the missile properly said and "Scamp" for the whole ensemble inside the container, which was transported on the modified chassis of a IS-3 tank, fitted with eight small road wheels for each track. All the previous Soviet missiles had a sole codename and the usage of two seemed to introduce unnecessary confusion. To make things even more complex, the missile was externally identical to the two upper phases of the SS-13, with the exception of small changes in the warhead, which in opinion of western observers could indicate lesser power. Classified as IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile), it had in fact superior range and it could be considered as a sort of land-based and mobile Polaris A3 (American ballistic missile launched from submarine). Such weapon could be transported to countless hidden emplacements along the Soviet border. There were many hundreds of IS-3 chassis available, some of them former carriers of the land-based tactical missile "Frog", and the impossibility of an effective surveillance by means of satellites of such a highly mobile system gave as result the term "Unknown" in the western estimations about the number of units deployed. The Soviet films showed how the container "Iron Maiden" is raised to a practically vertical position and then opened and lowered to the ground behind the rear part of the transporting vehicle. Once effectuated this operation, the vehicle unplugs its connection with the missile and moves away to direct the launching from a safe distance. The SS-14 had a length of about 10.8 meters and a diameter of 1.4 meters in the first phase, a launching weight of about 12000 kilograms and a range of about 4000 kilometers.

SS-15 Scrooge (SS-XZ)

This missile was seen for the first time in the parade at Red Square in the 7th November 1965 and it was the largest mobile weapons system in the world that was publicly shown. Modified chassis of IS-3 tanks transported a long tubular container that could be raised vertically, but not being opened to release the missile. It was designed to house an SS-13, of shorter length, and many observers agreed that this missile was the most probable answer, but the way in which the launching would be effectuated was unknown. Launching in cold was not possible and it was supposed that the container was used to protect the transporting vehicle - which in that moment is still connected to the missile - and it could not be reused after being fired the missile. If the transporting vehicle were away, the container would rest directly on the ground and the efflux of the rocket engines would fully pass to the interior. No response to this dilemma seemed satisfactory. Not even the gross weight of the ensemble transported - about 60 tonnes - suggested a very happy situation in the moment of being launched the missile. Another imbroglio was presented by the fact that after ten years as SS-15, the system was redesignated as SS-XZ in many American reports of the late 1970s. Circa 1970, it was accepted that this system was operative near the Chinese border, in the vicinity of Buir Nor. The deployment in the western border of the Soviet Union could have threatened targets in the European countries of the NATO, including United Kingdom, even if the first phase were shorter than the one of the SS-13. In 1983, however, there was no constancy about the Soviet Union having SS-15 in operative service. The SS-15 had a length of about 18.3 meters and a diameter of about 1.7 meters in the first phase, a launching weight of about 28000 kilograms and a range of about 5000 kilometers. Due to its limited range the SS-15 should be considered as an IRBM.

Soviet strategic missiles - From SS-9 to SS-15

The SS-16, SS-17, SS-18 and SS-19 belong to a completely new generation of Soviet missiles and will be treated in a separate article.

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

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-05-13


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