On the 20th of April 2022 Putin announced the successful testing of a new missile system, the Sarmat (‘Satan-2). He announced this to the gullible world as a major new threat to the West; a warning that this new missile was a ‘game-changer’. The Russian President said the successful launch of the "Sarmat" ICBM showed it was capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads as far as the continental United States and pondered that this “would give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia."
For those who have followed the bumpy, delay-ridden and unsuccessful development of this missile, the irony of Putin citing it as a game-changer which would force the West to re-evaluate its assistance to the Ukraine is staggering. It is staggering in that this ‘new missile’ was developed using the technological skills of the Ukrainian military bureaus; its design, components and guidance systems were, and largely remain, the products of Ukrainian military technology. The principal source of this technology derives from the engineering and technical skills of JSC «HARTRON» of Kharkov, Ukraine, and its subsidiaries in Zaporozhye and Berdyansk.
HARTRON was instrumental in the development of key elements of the missile.
LTD RPI HARTRON-ARKOS Development of control systems for rocket complexes and space-qualified hardware, automatic control systems and diagnostics systems for nuclear power plants.
LTD RPI HARTRON-PLANT Manufacturing of control system hardware for rocket complexes and spacecraft, hardware for nuclear power plants, consumer goods, control panels for railway transport and statives.
SMC «HARTRON-UCOM LTD» The development and manufacturing of hardware for spacecraft control systems, telemetry equipment, fibre-optics communication lines, systems of telemetry and automatic process control systems for gas and oil industry.
RPI «HARTRON-ASKOND» LTD The development of subsystems of control the carrier rocket RS-20 program "Dnepr".[i]
The carrier rocket RS-20 (‘Dnepr’) is Russia’s main military and commercial satellite launching and control system for both missiles and satellite launches. HARTRON is controlled by the Ukrainian State Space Agency (51%).
The Difficult Development History
The Satan-2 missile, the heavy, liquid-fuelled Sarmat ICBM, was developed as a replacement for Russia’s older R-36M missile (NATO Reporting name: SS-18 Satan). The Sarmat’s large payload is designed for up to 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones, or as many as 24 hypersonic Yu-71 glide vehicle. The break between the Ukraine and the Russians over the Russian activity in Donetsk, Luchansk and the Crimea in 2014 stopped co-operation between the Ukraine and Russia on further joint work of the missile system, as well as other projects. Work was reallocated to Russian factories. In the case of the Satan-2 the work was transferred to the Krasnoyarsk Machine Building Plant (Krasmash).
While it was planned to have built a prototype for testing by 2015 the reduced military budget impeded progress and the woeful state of Russian equipment at Krasmash made it necessary to spend the money for repairs before construction could begin. According to the Ministry, in 2010, fewer than 20 percent of machines at its fabrication facility were less than 20 years old. There was a shortage of skilled workers, modern manufacturing and testing equipment and spare parts. These were to be found in the Ukraine, and the Ukraine was not providing them.[ii] This was the pattern of much of Russian military technology after the break with the Ukraine.
Ukraine’s belated decision on March 29, 2015 to stop supplying weapons and military equipment to Russia, a month after its troops seized the Crimean peninsula, lead to the cancellation of numerous international contracts signed by Moscow. All military manufacturing and research had to be transferred to ill-prepared and underbudgeted factories in Russia.
There were numerous delays in developing this missile. The Sarmat’s development has consistently fallen behind schedule. The rocket prototype should have been ready in June 2015, but, in fact, it was designed only in November. Furthermore, pop-up tests of the missile prototype were scheduled for 2015 but were postponed to the first quarter of 2016 because sub-contracting enterprises faced problems with meeting deadlines for deliveries of Sarmat components during the project’s implementation. In February 2016, the test was postponed again for 3–4 months because the launch silo was not ready. According to media reports, the issue was a lack of funding. The silo was finally complete in May, but the test launch did not take place again, this time due to technical problems with the missile prototype. The pop-up tests were, thus, postponed to November–December. However, testing didn’t begin until half a year later., and the tests were not uniformly successful.
The positive development was that the Ukrainian “Dnepr” was adapted to the missile system as a method of launch and delivery. There were many of these in stock. Between 1999 and 2015, the Dnepr system was launched a total of 22 times, with 21 launches successful, with over 140 spacecraft from 20 countries sent into orbit. In March 2015, amid the collapse of Russian-Ukrainian relations following the February 2014 coup d'état, launches, which took place at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, were stopped. The Dnepr programme had a total of 150 missiles at its disposal, with well over 100 remaining unused after the programme's cancellation.
The Russian military planned to put Sarmat for final testing in late 2018 and complete replacing of older variants of Satan by 2020. Tests of the new Russian ICBM RS-28 (Satan-2) were set to begin by 2018. This schedule was pushed forward by delays in component acquisition and investments in modern equipment. Finally, in 2022, Putin announced that the Satan 2 was ready. He didn’t say how many would be available as a result of his announcement.
A Leap of Faith
While it is possible that all has been finally achieved in the development of a working Satan 2 system, there are those who doubts that this is an entirely truthful assertion, given the history of the program. One does not need to look beyond the launch of the new Russian Main Battle Tank. The T-14 Armata is a next-generation Russian main battle tank based on the Armata Universal Combat Platform—the first series-produced next-generation tank. The Russian Army initially planned to acquire 2,300 T-14s between 2015 and 2020. Production and fiscal shortfalls delayed this to 2025, and then to the apparent cancellation of the main production run. One was produced for the May Day parade but had to be towed away as the engine failed on its first run last year.
So, the notion that Putin will be able to “Mau-Mau” NATO with tales of the Satan -2 is highly fanciful. However, one must give Putin credit for new milestone in chutzpah; claiming that the West should not assist the Ukraine when the technology he is threatening them with is the technology of the factories of Kharkov, Zaporozhye and Berdyansk, which he is bombing into rubble.
[ii] Maxim Starchak, “Russia's Sarmat ICBM Faces Development Problems”, EDM 1/3/17