Can Russia use intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional high explosive warheads?
The idea of attaching a conditional FAB-9000 to an intercontinental ballistic missile may come to the mind of Russian Defense Minister Shoigu
This is reported by Defense Express.
After the Russian Federation came up with the idea of launching a Soyuz space launch vehicle from the FAB-9000 to strike a large Ukrainian city, it was a logical question whether the Kremlin could launch a specialized intercontinental ballistic missile, but not with a nuclear but a conventional warhead.
Given that Putin allegedly liked the idea of the Soyuz, it is entirely possible that Defense Minister Shoigu will also decide to "show off his intelligence" and propose a missile from the Strategic Missile Forces and submarine fleet, armed with an explosive warhead.
And the issue arises: why does the Russian Federation, which has operational tactical missile systems Iskander-M, need to invent something, particularly with the Soyuz? After all, the declared range of the 9M723 ballistic missile is 500 kilometers, which is enough to shell most of Ukraine (save for the western areas), and the entire country if launched from Belarus.
"Firstly, the range of the Iskander-M ballistic missile with a high-explosive warhead is becoming shorter. Secondly, there is the question of whether the warhead's 480 kg weight is sufficient for the purpose of the strike, combined with the accuracy of this missile," Defense Express notes.
Given that Moscow wishes to attack one of Ukraine's "largest cities," the purpose is obvious: murder as many civilians as possible. As a result, the opponent wishes to grow the size of the battle unit under its cannibalistic coordinate system.
If we look at the Russian Strategic Missile Forces' arsenal, we can see that the Topol and Yars weapons based on this design are unlikely to be prioritized because they can only deliver roughly 1.2 tons of payload.
Launch of the Russian Topol-M 15Zh65 missile. Photo: Defense Express
The Russian Yars complex. Photo: Defense Express
If we consider options with intercontinental missiles for submarines, the R-29RMU2 Sineva weighs 2 tons, and the R-30 Bulava 1.1 tons. That is, their parameters will not allow them to launch a really powerful munition.
"Therefore, Moscow may well decide to explore the idea of mine-based missiles: that is, the remains of the Soviet UR-100N UTTX with a 4.3 ton payload, as well as the R-36M2 Voevoda with an 8.8 ton payload. At the same time, it is estimated that the remnants of these missiles in the Russian Federation are quite small: 26 UR-100N UTTX missiles (6 of them for the Avangard block) and 46 R-36M2 missiles. And this could become a major deterrent for the Kremlin," the company writes.
Furthermore, technological problems may exist that prohibit the "easy" installation of a new high explosive warhead. In the United States, for example, the Pentagon recommended in 2006 that Trident II missiles for submarines be converted to carry conventional high-precision munitions as part of the Conventional Trident Modification program. It was expected to cost $500 million, which resulted in the program's cancellation a year later.
The reason for such high expenditures is that the accuracy of a small-sized warhead with a nuclear charge (the weight of the American W88 is 360 kg, W76 is 164 kg) is around +/- 120-150 meters. Even with a 500 kg warhead, a conventional warhead requires an accuracy of up to 10 meters, necessitating the development of entirely new forms of high-precision bombs capable of surviving reentry after a suborbital flight. As a result, the concept was swiftly abandoned.
An even greater deterrent to the Kremlin may be the fact that they must warn about the launch of any intercontinental missile in advance, indicating the exact time, route, and area of the warheads' impact. The fact is that one of the scenarios for the beginning of a nuclear attack involves a single launch with a detonation in the upper atmosphere, which will interfere with horizon radars and allow for the masking of a general salvo. That is, it is a trigger for a counterattack.
And in the case of the Russian Federation, a single launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile is a possible sign of the start of the Perimeter system (aka Dead Hand), which involves the launch of command missiles that transmit the launch signal to all other launchers.
In other words, the use of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Russian Federation in the conventional version is hampered by the small number of missiles that can perform this task, the threat of nuclear war, and technical difficulties in the manufacture of warheads.