World’s end at their fingertips: Russian troops in charge of ground-launched ICBMs celebrate 60th anniversary
People tasked with keeping Russian ICBMs, some of the most potentially destructive things in the world, updated and ready to use, are marking their anniversary; the weapons have not been used in actual combat in over 60 years.
The Russian Strategic Missile Forces – also known as RVSN after their Russian abbreviation – have about two thirds of the nation’s entire nuclear arsenal at their disposal. Spread around the country in silos and on truck-mountable containers are about 400 ICBMs, each with multiple nuclear warheads as their payload. It takes some 6,000 troops, constantly on combat duty, to manage such a large force.
The weapons themselves are also a large cash sink, requiring costly maintenance and regular upgrades. At the moment the RVSN is finalizing the replacement for the older heavy Voevoda ICBMs (Satan, in NATO’s terms), the Sarmat. It is touted as an answer to US attempts at undermining Russian nuclear deterrence by building a national anti-ballistic missile shield. Sarmat will reportedly have a range of 18,000km (11,185 miles) and thus will be able to reach US mainland from virtually any direction, bypassing those guarded by American interceptor sites.
Two other legacy Soviet models that need replacement are the silo-based UR-100N (called Stiletto by NATO) and the ground-mobile RS-12M Topol. The latter are gradually being retired in favor of modern Topol-M and Yars missiles, both of which also have a silo-launched variant.
The Stilettos, old as they are, have recently found a new purpose as carriers of the Avangard, Russia’s pioneering hypersonic glider that was made public last year. The fast-moving maneuvering nukes are another RVSN novelty meant to defeat any attempts to counter them. This upgrade is a test drive. Future Russian ICBMs will also be armed with hypersonic Avangard gliders.
The job of the soldiers and officers serving in the RVSN is to pose a threat credible enough so that they are never called to actually use their weapons in combat. Having such responsibility takes a special kind of morbid humor; the unofficial slogan of the military arm is “After us comes silence.” So far, they have not fired a single nuke at an enemy.
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