- On November 2, a rather staid little story appeared on
a ticker powered by Itar-Tass, a Russian News Agency. The tone was decidedly
Russian-matter-of-fact and shorn of all hyperbole. It reported the test
launch of a ballistic missile called the Topol RS 12 at 8:10 pm Moscow
time. After taking off from the Kapustny Yar test range in the Astrakhan
region, it hit the intended target at Balkhash in Kazakhstan at 8:34-24
- "The target was precisely hit," said the report,
quoting a top-ranking official from the Russian armed forces.
- In conclusion, Itar-Tass added some jargon that sounded
like regulation copy to most people tracking defence:
- "The advanced Topol missile has three cruise engines
and can develop hypersonic speed. The high thrust-to-weight ratio allows
the warhead to manoeuvre on the trajectory and pass through a dense air
- At that time, not many defence analysts thought much
of the report. After all, Kapustny Yar, located on the banks of the Volga
river, 75 miles east of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), had gone to the
dogs and was infrequently used. Whenever the base was lucky to see some
action, all it witnessed was small payloads.
- But what the mainstream media missed was analysed in
great detail on internet discussion boards. For starters, something about
the time mentioned in the report sounded astounding.
- For anything to travel from Kapustny to Balkash in 24
minutes, it had to fly at a speed of three miles a second. That's 180 miles
a minute or 10,800 miles an hour.
- If the reports were indeed true, the Topol RS 12 or the
Topol SS 27, as it is known in military circles around the world, had to
be the fastest thing man has ever seen. And if you will for a moment excuse
the breathlessness, it also represented the pinnacle of modern missile
technology. Until this test, the fastest thing known to man was the X43
A. A hypersonic, unmanned plane built by NASA. It flew at 10 times the
speed of sound-almost 7,200 miles per hour.
- But the Topol isn't attracting attention for its speed
alone. It has got more to do with the sheer viciousness it demonstrates.
A conventional intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), once deployed,
takes off on the back of a booster. After attaining a certain altitude,
it follows a set flight path or trajectory. When it reaches the intended
target, it lets loose a set of warheads that home in on the target with
devastating accuracy. Given these dynamics, military establishments build
defence systems that can intercept an ICBM before it strikes. Often, the
- With the Topol, these dynamics simply don't come into
play. To start with, the damn thing can be manoeuvred mid-flight. This
makes it practically impossible for any radar system in the world to figure
out what trajectory it will follow.
- The other thing is the kind of evasion technology built
into the missile. That makes it invulnerable to any kind of radiation and
electromagnetic and physical interference.
- Then there is the question of ground-based nuclear warheads
traditionally deployed to stop ICBMs in their path. Until now, any ICBM
can be taken down by detonating a nuclear warhead from as far as 10 kilometres.
The Topol doesn't blink an eyelid until the time a nuclear warhead gets
as close as 500 meters. But given the Topol's remarkable speed and manoeuvrability,
getting a warhead that close is practically impossible.
- That leaves defence establishments with only two options.
Target the missile at its most vulnerable points - either when it is on
the ground or when it is just being deployed (also known as the boost phase).
- Apparently, the Russians have gotten around that problem,
too. Unlike virtually every ICBM that exists on some military base or the
other, the Topol doesn't have to be on a static base. All it needs is the
back of a truck. And trucks can be driven anywhere, anytime. That makes
it practically impossible for any country to monitor how many of these
missiles have been deployed and where.
- Writes Scott Ritter, a former intelligence officer and
weapons inspector in the Soviet Union and Iraq in the Christian Science
- "The Bush administration's dream of a viable NMD
has been rendered fantasy by the Russian test of the SS-27 Topol-M.. To
counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch."
- But when you're done marvelling at the technology, sit
back for a moment and consider this. You thought the cold war was over.
You thought wrong. Cold War II has just begun. And the world just became
a more dangerous place.
- To recap the SS-27 'highlights'...
- The Topol SS 27 can be manoeuvred mid-flight. this makes
it impossible for radar systems to figure out its flight path.
- It is invulnerable to radiation and electromagnetic and
- It can be mounted on the back of a truck, which makes
it difficult to monitor how many of these missiles have been deployed and
- Let's just ignore the great figures this missile is capable
off, let's look at the timing of the press release.
- We have the West gathering behind The Great Satan to
bomb Iran for doing what it has every right under international law to
do. Then we have Russia showing off the fastest missile ever made 180 miles
a minute or 10,800 miles an hour. This is no accident or misprint. What
we have here is a very clear message written in the universal language
- Dear sir
- Having read an article by Charles Assisi of The Times
of India titled "Russia's SS-27 Makes Bush's Missile Defense A Fantasy"
posted on your site, I decided to test the numbers myself as it seemed
the speeds of the missile mentioned were quite fantastic. I looked up Astrakhan
and Kazakhstan in my concise World atlas. Assuming that the location of
the Kapustny Yar test range mentioned is correct, "...located on the
banks of the Volga river, 75 miles east of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad)..."
and that the target at Balkhash was somewhere in proximity to Lake Balkhash
(Balchas) and/or the Balkhash township in Kazakhstan my estimation is that
this is a distance of approx. 2400kms (about 1600 miles). The missile apparently
covered this distance in 24 minutes. I calculate the speed of the missile
was therefore about 100kms/minute (about 67miles/minute or 1.12miles/sec)
or 6000kmh (about 4000mph). This is roughly Mach 4 or Mach 5 and NOT the
10,800 mph Mach 10 mentioned in the article. Would you not agree?