Russia just test-fired an ICBM built to beat US defences as a nuclear arms race heats up

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty ImagesRussian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Russia test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in its far east on Wednesday, according to the Russian defence ministry.
  • The RS-24 Yars, a solid-fuel missile carrying multiple warheads and equipped with countermeasures, is designed to be launched quickly and to evade missile-defence systems.
  • The test comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow and as a brewing arms race between the two great powers kicks into high gear.

Russia test-fired its advanced RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile Wednesday, the Russian defence ministry said, amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow.

The road-mobile, solid-fuel ICBM, which was “armed with multiple warheads,” was launched from the Plesetsk state testing spaceport, according to Russian state-run media outlet TASS. “The launch aimed to confirm the advanced missile system’s capabilities and flight characteristics,” the ministry said.

The Yars missile went into service in 2010. It can be either mobile or silo-based, and it is upgraded version of the Topol-M missiles. With a range of nearly 7,000 miles, the Yars was designed to beat enemy missile defences.

The Yars has the ability to alter its trajectory during flight, and this manoeuvrability makes it more difficult to intercept. It can also deploy active and passive decoys – countermeasures that make it more formidable.

And then there are the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, which allow the multiple warheads on board to travel a different path than the ICBM was travelling initially.

Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballisticRussian Defence Ministry

“This coupled with the fact that the Yars only takes 7 minutes to launch poses serious threats to the missile defence system used by the US to protect its homeland and its allies,” according to the Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance. “The RS-24 is a vital part of Moscow’s effort to increase the survivability its nuclear forces and to counter missile defence systems being deployed by the United States.”

The latest test comes just a few weeks after the release of the Trump administration’s Missile Defence Review, a document highly criticised by Moscow, and just days after the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the last line of defence preventing a major nuclear arms race – from which the US withdrew over alleged Russian violations of the Cold War-era nuclear-arms agreement.

As he ripped up the INF Treaty, President Donald Trump warned the US will “move forward with developing our own military response” to Russian moves. Russian President Vladimir Putin then stressed that Russia “will respond quid pro quo.”

The Russian defence ministry has called for the development of a new land-based cruise missile, a variant of the sea-launched Kalibr missiles, and hypersonic missiles. There are also reports that Russia is again testing its much-hyped Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, although Moscow apparently has yet to achieve success with this new system.

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