Why Does Russia Revive the 'Nuclear Train' Program?
(Source: China Military; issued December 5, 2016)
BEIJING --- Research and development of the missile-carrying train for Russia's future Barguzin "combat railway missile complex" (BZhRK), also referred as the "nuclear train" for its transportation and launch of strategic nuclear missiles, is in smooth progress, according to Russian media reports.

The Barguzin complex's intercontinental ballistic missile had a successful Pop-up launch test recently, and further flight design testing may begin in 2017. Sergei Karakayev, commander of Russian Strategic Missile Forces, said the nuclear train is expected to be deployed in the strategic missile troops in 2020 and assume combat duties.

The BZhRks was called the "ghost trains" during the Cold War. The US and former Soviet Union invested a lot of scientific research resources and capital in its development and manufacturing, and the US didn't abandon this program until the Soviet Union was disintegrated and the Cold War ended.

The Soviet strategic missile troops were equipped with 12 BZhRKs with 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles in total from 1987. After the Cold War, Russia and the US signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), according to which 10 BZhRKs were destroyed, and the remaining two were placed in an exhibition hall after being "demilitarized".

Why does Russia revive the BZhRK program, which once posed a serious threat to the US, so many years after the Cold War? Because it wants to maintain strategic deterrence against the US.

First of all, Russia is developing new strategic missiles to preserve its national security and maintain the position as a nuclear power.

Russian President Putin once said that nuclear weapons will remain a key factor that prevents nuclear and conventional military conflicts, and Russia's main task is to "maintain sufficient potential of nuclear restraint". Therefore, Russia has been trying hard to keep up the nuclear arsenal it inherits from the Soviet Union despite its economic fluctuations, and strives to keep a general equilibrium with the US in strategic nuclear forces.

Thanks to the government's strong support, Russia has developed a range of advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles including Topol-M, Yars and Rubezh, and the Sarmat intercontinental missile with the firing range of 17,000km is under way. According to Karakayev, reviving the Barguzin BZhRK was a decision made by President Putin.

Second, reviving the Barguzin program will help Russia ensure the flexible deployment and launch of its land-based strategic missiles.

Karakayev said after the new-generation missile train is commissioned, Russia's land-based strategic missile troops will resume the three launching approaches that were adopted by the former Soviet Union, namely silo launch, mobile launch on the road and train-based launch, which will largely expand the troops' maneuvering scope and enhance its surprise attack.

Russian media reported that the new-generation missile-carrying train can run 1,000km on regular rail in 24 hours and can launch the missile within minutes either on the move or in halt.

Third, the missile-carrying train has much better stealth performance than silo launch and road-mobile launch.

Given Russia's vast territory and sprawling railway network, the missile-carrying train will merge into the network as soon as it gets on the way. A Russian expert on military and security issues pointed out that thanks to modern technology, the carriage of the newly developed missile train isn't much different from the carriage of regular passenger and cargo trains, and common people won't know it carries powerful weapons even if it passes them. Russian media reported that during the Cold War, the US used several satellites to look for the serving Soviet missile trains, but didn't find them. The American admitted it was like "searching for a needle in a haystack".

The missile train program is also a countermove in response to America's global missile defense system and C-PGS (prompt global strike) program.

The new strategic missile Russia is developing focuses on the capability of penetrating America's missile defense system. Russia didn't reveal much information about the new-generation missile train yet, but it was reported earlier on that it will be equipped with the modified Yars intercontinental missile. Each missile train can carry six Yars missiles and each missile has four independently reentry nuclear vehicles with the firing range of 10,000km and precision radius of 100m.

According to Russian military experts, missile train is the strategic missile combat system that is most likely to dodge nuclear or conventional strikes launched by other countries because it can vanish into the forests along the railway or hide in mountain tunnels, which will make countries that plan to attack Russia by surprise think twice.

Karakayev said when re-launching the BZhRK, Russia will consider applying all the latest research results in combat missile. Barguzin will surpass its predecessors in precision and firing range, and will serve in Russia's Strategic Missile Forces for a long time.

The Russian military plans to form five Barguzin strategic missile regiments, each including one missile train and six missiles. The Russian media held that once the Barguzin is put into service, it will become another "ace in the hole" that can significantly enhance the overall strength of the Russian strategic missile troops and effectively counter America's military superiority.

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