Russian TV has shown off the country’s gigantic “Satan” missile payload bus

The bus has two rows of seven seats and can fit up to 14 warheads.
Christopher McFadden
Intercontinental ballistic missile R-36M
Intercontinental ballistic missile R-36M

Vadim Tolbatov/Wikimedia Commons 

In a surprising move, Russian state media released footage of the payload module of Russia's R-36M2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time. On November 20, 2022, Military Russia blogger and Russian military analyst Dmitry Kornev shared still images of the missile on Twitter.

This missile, also called the SS-18 Mod 5 "Satan," has one of the largest payloads of any ICBM ever made and is set up as a so-called multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, or MIRV.

The video was first broadcast on Russia-24 and TV Zvezda, two state-run television networks. As reported by The Drive, Kornev says that the video was made public after the first full-scale launch of the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM in April 2022. In time, the R-36M2 is anticipated to replace the RS-28 in Russian service.

In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union started making the R-36M2, a two-stage (not counting the payload bus) liquid-fueled silo-launched ICBM launched from a silo. It was meant to be a more accurate and all-around better version of the R-36M.

In the 1970s, the original R-36M started replacing earlier R-36-series missiles.

One of the most important differences between the R-36M and the R-36 also called the SS-9 "Scarp," is that the newer version uses a gas generator to release the missile from the silo before its main rocket motors start up.

This is called a "cold launch system."

The R-36M2, frequently referred to as a "heavyweight" ICBM, is enormous, measuring almost 10 feet in diameter (3 meters) and weighing just over 211 tonnes when fully fueled, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Comparatively, the LGM-30G Minuteman III of the U.S. Air Force measures just under 60 feet (18.3 m) in length, is five and a half feet (1.67 meters) wide, and weighs just under 40 tonnes when launched. With a length of almost 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 tonnes, the larger LGM-118A Peacekeeper, which the U.S. Air Force withdrew from service in 2005, was still much smaller.

The "Satan" missile is a monster

The pictures that Kornev put online show how big the R-36M2 is. The bus has two rows of seven seats and can fit up to 14 warheads. The approximate yield of these warheads is disputed; some sources claim that it is between 550 and 750 kilotons, while others claim that it might be between 750 and one megatons.

That is a lot of destructive potential in one place!

Kornev claims that each of these missiles typically carries ten warheads. Instead, the remaining four slots are occupied by "penetration aids," which include decoys and other tools meant to make it difficult for enemy forces to identify which of the approaching items are genuine threats, follow them, and maybe try to intercept them.

In a few of the still images, Kornev posted on Twitter, items in front of the bus appear to be decoys or at least mock-ups of them.

The bus appears to have four separate rocket motors at the back that would launch it into space and then deliver its warheads and penetrating aids over numerous targets along a predetermined course.

The images show some interesting features of the payload bus

The photos of the R-36M2's payload bus also reveal a particularly intriguing detail at the nosecone's tip. At first appearance, this might be an aerospike that reduces drag, like the Trident family of ballistic missiles launched from submarines by the U.S. Navy in broad strokes.

The aerospikes assist in lowering drag during launch on those weapons, which have relatively blunt nose cones built to allow more interior capacity without lengthening overall. The protrusion on the Russian missile, according to Kornev, is a component of the system for detaching the nose cone from the rest of the payload bus so the warheads and penetration aids can be released.

It's unknown why the Russians chose to flaunt these R-36M2 specifications openly. These missiles will be replaced entirely, but it is unclear when their replacement, the RS-28 Sarmat, also known as the SS-X-30 "Satan 2," will start to be used.

It was initially intended for those new ICBMs to begin being placed into silos last year, but this is yet, allegedly, to happen.

Even before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, which resulted in severe international sanctions and other pressures on the nation's defense industrial base, there were delays in the RS-28's development.

According to rumors, the Kremlin has canceled its most recent long-term defense investment plans due to the war.

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