Russian state media outlets have offered unprecedented looks at the payload bus for the R-36M2 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, where the weapon’s nuclear warheads are housed. Also known as the SS-18 Mod 5 Satan in the West, this missile has a so-called multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, or MIRV, configuration and has one of the heaviest payloads of any ICBM ever developed and fielded.
Dmitry Kornev, a Russian military expert who runs the blog Military Russia, recently posted stills showing the R-36M2 payload bus on Twitter that were captured from video clips broadcast on the state-run television stations Russia-24 and TV Zvezda. The latter of these is the official television station of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Kornev indicated that the footage has been shown after the first full-scale launch of the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM in April 2022. The RS-28 is expected to eventually replace the R-36M2 in Russian service.
The R-36M2 is a two-stage (not including the payload bus) liquid-fueled silo-launched ICBM the Soviet Union first started developing in the early 1980s as a more accurate and otherwise more capable successor to earlier R-36M variants. The original R-36M had begun replacing older R-36-series missiles in the 1970s. One of the biggest differences between the R-36M and the R-36, also known in the West as the SS-9 Scarp, was the change in the newer design to a cold launch system that uses a gas generator to eject the missile from the silo before its main rocket motors ignite.
Often referred to as a heavyweight ICBM, the R-36M2 is massive, with an overall length of around 112 feet (37.25) meters, nearly 10 feet in diameter (3 meters), and weighing just over 211 tons with a full load of fuel, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). By comparison, the U.S. Air Force’s LGM-30G Minuteman III is just shy of 60 feet (18.3 m) long, is five and a half feet (1.67 meters) wide, and is just under 40 tons when launched. The larger LGM-118A Peacekeeper, which the U.S. Air Force withdrew from service in 2005, was still substantially smaller, with a length of some 69 feet (21.1 meters), a diameter of just over seven and a half feet (2.34 meters), and a launch weight of close to 98 tons.