‘Nuke trains’ with up to 30 Yars missiles rolling out from 2018 – Russian defense source
A ‘nuclear train’ – properly called BZhRK, short for ‘combat railway missile complex’ in Russian – is a mobile platform for transporting and launching strategic nuclear missiles. Similarly to nuclear submarines, such trains are hard to wipe out in a preemptive strike because of their mobility and ability to be disguised as regular freight trains.
The Soviet Union had 12 such nuclear trains, each carrying three RT-23 Molodets (SS-24 Scalpel in NATO disambiguation) missiles, but they were released from combat duty after Russia and the US signed the START-2 treaty in 1993 and eventually decommissioned.
Last year the Russian military said that nuclear trains – which are no longer banned under the New START treaty – would be revived.
The move is meant to counter the US’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike project, which would allow Pentagon to deliver precision strikes with conventional weapons at any target in the world in one hour.
Last week the head of Russia's Strategic Missile Force, Lieutenant General Sergey Karakayev, revealed that the future missile platform would be called Barguzin after the strong eastern wind that blows over Lake Baikal.
Now a source in the Russian military, which preferred to remain anonymous, has revealed some details of the weapon to Russian news agencies.
Like its predecessor, Barguzin’s carriages carrying missiles would be disguised as refrigerator cars. But since a Yars missile weights roughly half of what a Molodets missile did, the cars would not need reinforced wheel-sets to carry the load. This would make the trains harder to identify from the ground.
The weight difference also means that a single nuclear train would be able to carry more individual missiles. According to designs of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, the weapon platform’s developer, each Barguzin would be able to tow up to six Yars missiles, the source said.
The destructive potential of the new platform would probably be smaller than that of its predecessor however. Molodets missiles had 10 MIRVed warheads with a total yield of 5.5 megatons. Yars reportedly has four warheads with a total yield of between 0.4 and 1.2 megatons. The more advanced Yars, however, is more accurate and has greater range.
Organizationally, each train with its personnel would constitute a single regiment of the Strategic Missile Force (RVSN).
“The BZhRKs Barguzin will be delivered to one of the RVSN divisions organized into five regiments,” the source said. “The timeline for finishing the development is 2018.”
The first Barguzin is likely to go into service in 2019, the source said. The Russian military expects the nuclear trains to remain in service until at least 2040.