On December 25, 1974, the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Forces of the USSR took up combat duty, equipped with a third-generation strategic mine complex P-36M with a heavy liquid intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In the member countries of NATO, the new Soviet weapons were assigned the code SS-18 Satan - "Satan".

The P-36M became the most powerful ICBM in the world. Its energy capabilities made it possible to place up to 14-16 warheads. The payload (thrown mass) of the rocket was 8.8 tons, the maximum range, depending on the equipment, was 11-16 thousand km.

"Satan" was not equal in terms of weight and size characteristics. The length of the rocket is about 34 m, the diameter is 3 m, the starting weight is 210 tons, of which fuel is about 188 tons. The P-36M was located in high-security mines. Such launchers are able to remain operational after a nuclear attack, ensuring the defeat of the enemy in the framework of the concept of retaliatory strike.

  • The Satan rocket launcher in the Orenburg region
  • RIA News
  • © Vladimir Fedorenko

In a conversation with RT, retired Major General of the Strategic Missile Forces, Doctor of Military Sciences Vyacheslav Kruglov said that the need to create "Satan" was caused primarily by the intensive development of the United States missile defense systems.

“The Soviet leadership came to the conclusion that the Strategic Missile Forces require new liquid intercontinental ballistic missiles that could guarantee the destruction of targets on enemy territory. The stake was made on increasing the number of combat units and false targets for missile defense systems, ”Kruglov explained.

Heavy Duty ICBM

The head developer of Satan is the Yuzhne Design Bureau (Dnepropetrovsk). The creation of the P-36M was authorized by the Council of Ministers of the USSR. The government of the Soviet Union adopted the relevant resolution on September 2, 1969.

Until 1971, the management of research and development (R&D) on the R-36M was carried out by the famous domestic scientist Mikhail Kuzmich Yangel. After his death, the project was headed by Vladimir Fedorovich Utkin. Also involved in the creation of Satan was a young engineer Leonid Kuchma, the future second president of Ukraine.

In addition to Yuzhmash, experts from the Central Design Bureau of Transport Engineering (Moscow), Design Bureau of Energomash (Khimki), Design Bureau of Special Engineering (Leningrad), and NII-692 (Kharkov) had a hand in the development of the R-36M.

The scientists were tasked with developing a heavy-duty ICBM with multiple warheads of individual guidance capable of overcoming the boundaries of missile defense. Also, the rocket needed to be equipped with a more advanced autonomous control system with an on-board digital computer.

The new ICBM had to meet high requirements in terms of speed (including on the upper stage of flight), accuracy, radius of damage to objects, payload, survivability and combat readiness. A preliminary design of the rocket was prepared in December 1969. When creating the "Satan", scientists relied on the experience of developing ICBM R-36 (according to NATO classification - SS-9 Scarp - "Slope").

The first test launch of ICBMs was carried out on February 21, 1973 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Satan’s flight design tests continued until October 1975. Scientists of Yuzhmash and other Soviet enterprises managed to solve the tasks set by the country's leadership.

An important achievement was an increase in the life cycle of an intercontinental missile up to 25 years (earlier the term of combat duty of ICBMs did not exceed 10-15 years). But the key advantage of the R-36M was the ability to use multiple warheads and maneuvering monoblock warheads of light and heavy classes.

  • Demonstration model of the Satan rocket
  • Reuters
  • © Gleb Garanich

Soviet scientists devoted much attention to improving the mine where Satan was placed. The launcher received a new missile cushioning system and control equipment. A prototype mine was tested at the Semipalatinsk test site to maintain operability as a result of a nuclear strike.

In various combat equipment, the R-36M was put into service in 1978-1979. On August 9, 1983, the Council of Ministers of the USSR approved a resolution on the development of a modernized version of "Satan" - R-36M2. It was a fourth-generation intercontinental missile, which in the USSR received the respectful name of “Voivode”.

“In reality, work on the R-36M2 began a few years before the official decision of the Council of Ministers. Back in June 1979, Yuzhnoye developed a technical proposal for a new generation of liquid ICBMs, a preliminary design was ready in three years, ”Dmitry Kornev, founder of Military Russia portal, told RT.

The missile was designed to break through any missile defense systems and ensure a guaranteed launch even with repeated nuclear impact in the area of ​​strategic mines.

March 21, 1986 from the site number 101 was the first launch of the prototype R-36M2. However, the test failed. The main engine of the ICBM did not start and, crashing into the mine, the rocket exploded. However, the vast majority of launches were successful.

“The development of the R-36M2 was completed at the end of the existence of the USSR. The collapse of Soviet statehood influenced plans to re-equip the Strategic Missile Forces. In total, it was planned to put more than 100 missiles into the troops, but by the end of 1991 there were 82 Voevods on combat duty, ”said Dmitry Kornev.

According to him, 30 ICBMs received formations of the 13th division of the Strategic Missile Forces (Dombarovsky, Orenburg Region), 28 missiles were on combat duty of the 62nd Uzhursky Division (Krasnoyarsk Territory), 24 R-36M2 were delivered to the 38th Division in Derzhavinsk (Kazakh SSR )

“In the wake of reconciliation with the United States, the Voivode was removed from combat duty on the 38th division, and the mines were flooded with concrete. As a result, 58 R-36M2 remained on the territory of the Russian Federation. As far as I understand, almost all of them are still in use today, and without the participation of Ukraine, with which the Voevod service was previously serviced, ”said Kornev.

"Have served your"

In the West, the fifth-generation RS-28 Sarmat heavy liquid ICBM, which should replace the Voivode, is called the heir of Satan. Missiles will be located in the same mine installations after preliminary modernization. The first recipient of the newest complex will be the Uzhur division of the Strategic Missile Forces. The head developer of Sarmat is JSC GRTS Makeeva (city of Miass, Chelyabinsk region).

RS-28 will surpass Voevoda in power, accuracy, range and cast mass. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Sarmat is capable of carrying up to 20 warheads of various power classes. In addition, three Avangard hypersonic complexes with planning combat units can be installed on this ICBM.

  • Launch of the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region
  • RIA News
  • © Ministry of Defense of Russia

“R-36M2 is at the end of its life cycle. We can say that the "Governors" have served their purpose. A few years later they will be replaced by completely Russian Sarmatians. Despite all its advantages, the R-36M2 is much inferior to the RS-28. In fact, these ICBMs are related by the fact that they belong to the class of heavy liquid-propellant rockets and are similar in mass and size characteristics. In all other respects, you don’t need to look for any common features, ”explained Vyacheslav Kruglov.

Dmitry Kornev believes that the appearance of Satan made a significant contribution to the strategic containment of the United States. The analyst called the R-36M / M2 "an extremely formidable weapon." According to him, ICBMs with a high degree of probability ensured the defeat of strategically important enemy targets, even in the event of a strong deviation or interception of part of warheads.

“At the insistence of the United States, 10 warheads were installed on the Voivode, although it could carry significantly more payloads. The Americans had something to worry about. The “Satan” and “Sarmat”, perhaps, have only one significant minus - the production and operation of heavy liquid ICBMs is an expensive pleasure. However, these costs are fully justified by national security considerations, ”- summed up the expert.