The DEFCON Warning System

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war. Established 1984

Russia Releases Incredibly Detailed Views Of Its Massive ‘Satan’ Missile

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.

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The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.