For several decades, the R-36M intercontinental ballistic missiles have been a key element of the ground component of the strategic nuclear forces. However, by now even the newest modifications of the Voevoda are outdated, and their operation should be completed in the very near future. To replace the R-36M2 products, a completely new RS-28 "Sarmat" rocket is being created. At the same time, the issue of disposal or alternative use of the decommissioned Voevod becomes relevant.
The R-36M2 / 15P018M / RS-20V / Voevoda missile system was put into service in 1988 and replaced the older systems of its family. More than 30 years have passed since then, which has led to well-known consequences. Despite all the measures to extend the resource and service life, the R-36M2 missiles will soon have to be removed from service.
The topic of abandoning the "Voevod" in favor of other samples with subsequent write-off has been discussed for many years. In March 2018, the Ministry of Defense revealed its plans in this regard. Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov then said that the life cycle of the R-36M2 ICBMs was approaching the end, and in the near future it was planned to take them off duty. The old missiles were supposed to be sent for recycling.
According to data from various open sources, the Strategic Missile Forces currently keep no more than 45-50 R-36M2 missiles on alert. A number of such items may be in storage. Thus, in the foreseeable future, the Ministry of Defense will write off several dozen old ICBMs and make room for new ones.
The further fate of the decommissioned missiles is obvious. Unnecessary ICBMs will be sent for disassembly and disposal. However, other use of the products is also possible, as officials and various sources have already mentioned.
Waste to income
A certain part of the Voevoda ICBMs remaining on duty will soon be sent for dismantling. This process will start this year. In early January, Interfax, with reference to the Spark-Marketing information system, announced the launch of a tender for the disposal of two decommissioned missiles.
According to the terms of reference of the tender, the contractor will have to accept for disposal two transport and launch containers with Voyevods. They should be picked up from the military unit in the Urals and delivered to the enterprise to be disassembled. Disassembly will yield a certain amount of materials to be sold. The rest of the waste is disposed of in accordance with the established procedure. Work on two ICBMs should be completed by November 30 of this year. The disposal will be carried out in accordance with the terms of the existing strategic arms treaties.
The expected results of missile disposal are known. The R-36M2 product with TPK weighs about 52 tons, and about half of this mass falls on recyclable materials. From each missile the contractor will "extract" 20 tons of non-ferrous and 6 tons of ferrous metals, 19 kg of silver, 1200 g of gold and 55 g of platinum. Some of the other materials will also be sent for recycling.
The cost of the work and their performer have not been specified. At the same time, it is clear that the sale of recovered materials will at least partially offset the costs of disposal.
Probably, the current tender for the disposal of two R-36M2 ICBMs will not be the last. Within a few years, about 50-60 missiles will be decommissioned, and a significant part of them should be disassembled. The exact schedule for the disposal of missiles and other plans of the Ministry of Defense have not yet been announced. More details are likely to emerge in the near future.
From the mine into space
One of the ways to get rid of decommissioned ICBMs is to convert them into launch vehicles to put the payload into orbit. So, in 1999-2015. operated missiles "Dnepr", built on the basis of decommissioned combat R-36M UTTH / RS-20B. There were 22 launches (1 emergency) with 140 spacecraft. Over the past several years, Dnepr has not been used for a number of reasons, but there is information about a small stock of R-36M UTTKh ICBMs suitable for conversion.
In recent years, the topic of developing a new launch vehicle based on the R-36M2 Voevoda product has been repeatedly raised. So, in May 2018, RIA Novosti, citing sources in the space industry, spoke about the possible creation of a new project of the Dnepr type on a new base.
It was about converting R-36M2 combat ICBMs into launch vehicles using existing experience. At the same time, in contrast to the Dnipro project, it was planned to do it on our own and without involving Ukraine. It was noted that the use of missiles of the R-36M UTTKh modification is now not advisable due to their small number. Newer and more numerous P-36M2s are of greater interest in this context.
About a year after this news, official statements were made. In May 2019, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, spoke about the plans for Voevoda. According to him, the decommissioned rockets will undergo conversion and be used to launch the load into orbit. However, the head of "Roskosmos" did not give specific data.
Since then, the topic of processing a combat ICBM into a launch vehicle has not been raised. It cannot be ruled out that the development of such a project is already underway, but data on its account are not yet available. The lack of news about the launch vehicle and the announcement of the scrappage tender can also be interpreted as a rejection of plans to convert the decommissioned weapons.
For its intended purpose …
An alternative to recycling or conversion could be the use of missiles for their intended purpose - in the framework of exercises or tests. However, not all such methods are expedient and make sense, taking into account the known plans for the future.
In the past, combat training launches of Voyevoda products were carried out on a regular basis, both as part of the Strategic Missile Forces exercises and as part of larger events of the armed forces as a whole. Regular missile launches make it possible to test the skills of personnel and the performance of the complexes in conditions as close as possible to combat ones. However, it should be noted that the last training launches of R-36M2 products took place several years ago, and since then such weapons have not been used.
Training launches of ICBMs of the R-36M family were regularly carried out as tests based on the results of measures to extend the service life of equipment and weapons. The successful launch of ICBMs for a training target at the test site confirmed the correctness of the solutions used and made it possible to extend the service life. However, now such events and launches simply do not make sense. The R-36M2 missiles will be abandoned in the near future, and the extension of the resource is no longer planned.
The launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile during exercises or for the purpose of testing is a kind of alternative to disposal and also has its advantages. Nevertheless, the number of reasons for such use of "Voevod" for objective reasons has decreased.
Last years of service
As you can see, old ICBMs with an expiring service life can be used in different ways or disposed of with a certain benefit. To date, reliable information has appeared only about the future disposal of missiles. The prospects for conversion for the space industry remain unclear. However, new information about the plans of the Strategic Missile Forces and the Ministry of Defense may appear in the very near future.
Since the end of the eighties, the R-36M2 Voevoda missile system has been one of the main means of ensuring the strategic security of our country. However, more than 30 years have passed, and this complex has become obsolete - it will have to be removed from service and replaced with a modern one. Old missiles are regularly transferred for cutting, and this year two next products will cease to exist.
In fact, an entire era in the history of our Strategic Missile Forces is ending. And now everything possible is being done so that its completion is not associated with losses, but gives one or another benefit. How exactly the Department of Defense will dispose of the old weapons is already clear. Perhaps new details will appear in the near future.