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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Missile Successfully Test-Fired

The military on Tuesday test-fired a new ballistic missile that will become the backbone of the country's strategic nuclear triad as it prepares to phase out its Soviet-era arsenal and respond to U.S. plans for a missile defense shield.

The missile, which the Strategic Missile Forces designated as the RS-24, was fired at 2:20 p.m. from a mobile launcher at the northwestern Plesetsk Cosmodrome and flew across the country to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The maiden flight went without a hitch, and the missile's so-called multiple re-entry vehicles landed on target on the Kura testing range, the Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement.

The multiwarhead missile will be able to overcome any missile defense shield and will serve as the main land component of the country's strategic nuclear triad until the middle of this century, the statement said.

Ukrainian-built RS-18 and RS-20 intercontinental missiles now make up the backbone of the land component, and hundreds of them will have to be decommissioned as they reach the end of their service life from 2015 to 2017, independent experts estimate. Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Washington-based World Security Institute, said the military would need to commission about 40 new RS-24s per year to maintain parity with the United States. It now commissions about six single-warhead RS-12M2s, also known as the Topol-Ms, per year, he said.

The RS-24 will play a lead role in not only replenishing the missile stockpile, but also in responding to the U.S. plan to deploy a global missile defense shield, experts said. "As their arsenal declines and our defense increases, there could come a time, sooner than later, when the two trends could be great enough to affect the strategic balance," said Kevin Ryan, senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Given the fact that RS-24s would be mobile and thus much more difficult to detect than silo-based ICBMs, the new missiles would considerably beef up the strategic triad's capability to respond to a nuclear attack if the START I strategic arms treaty expires without a replacement in 2009. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been reluctant to negotiate a replacement for START I, which sets limits on strategic delivery systems for nuclear warheads. But a Democratic president might view the deployment of RS-24s as a reason for a new treaty, said Alexander Pikayev, an independent security analyst. START I requires the United States and Russia to inform each other of zones where their ICBMs are based, and its expiry would allow commanders to reposition RS-24s, Safranchuk said. "This should become an issue of serious concern for Americans," he said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that he could not officially confirm that the test had occurred and that the missile could penetrate any defense system. Casey said the Pentagon would examine the announcement, and he repeated a U.S. offer for Russia to cooperate on missile defense issues.

The RS-24 is a modification of a single-warhead version of post-Soviet Russia's first indigenous ICBM, the Topol-M. Since a mobile version of the Topol-M has been tested, the RS-24 could require as few as three tests before it is deemed operational, Safranchuk said.