The first crop of details has emerged concerning the mysterious new Kedr intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the successor to Russia’s current Yars missile system.
Russian state news outlet TASS reported earlier this month that work will soon commence on Russia’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “Research work on Kedr has been financed under the current state arms procurement program, which is in effect until 2027. Technological development will begin in 2023–2024,” a defense industry insider source told TASS.
Kedr is a solid-fueled ICBM system that, like its Yars predecessor, will come in both mobile and silo-based variants. Mobile-road ICBM systems enjoy several advantages over their silo counterparts; in particular, they are harder to locate, track, target, and destroy, making them potentially more survivable.
Scarcely anything has been revealed by way of Kedr’s concrete specifications, and what little is known is liable to change as the new ICBM system comes further along in the research and development process. Defense sources previously confirmed to Russian media that work on Kedr is in an early stage: “If it progresses to the experiment and design phase, we will be able to talk in substance. So far, it is still a deep R&D stage.”
The Kedr system is the latest milestone in the Kremlin’s far-reaching program to procure a modernized ICBM force. According to a widely cited 2020 estimate, Russia’s Armed Forces are believed to possess forty-six upgraded R-36M2 (SS-18) missiles, forty-five Topol (SS-25) road-mobile missile systems, sixty Topol-M (SS-27) silo systems, eighteen Topol-M mobile units, 135 mobile Yars mobile systems, and another fourteen silo-based Yars units. The Kremlin aims to completely replace the Topol, a 1980s Soviet ICBM that occupied the foundation of Russia’s mobile ICBM forces in the years following the Soviet collapse, with its Topol-M successor by the early 2020s. Yars is a development of the Topol-M system, capable of carrying a heavier and substantially improved payload— it is also reportedly slightly more accurate. The Yars ICBM is slated to eventually phase out all remaining Topol-M units; similarly, the new Kedr system is intended to replace all existing and planned Yars units in the coming decades.
Further still, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are now in the midst of accepting deliveries of the formidable new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Avangard HGV’s will be one of several payload options for Russia’s upcoming new RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, which is among the six new weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his 2018 annual state-of-the-nation address. Putin previously described Sarmat, a two-hundred-ton, super-heavy liquid-fueled missile with a maximum speed of Mach 20 depending on its payload, as wholly immune to interception by “any current or prospective” air defense system.
Russia’s ICBM modernization rate is well on pace to exceed 80 percent in the next several years if it hasn’t already. The Kedr ICBM is slated to begin replacing Russia’s Yars units— and any older systems still in service by that point— in the early 2030s.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.