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Russia secretly launched a new ICBM around time of Biden-Putin summit, state media reports

Russian strategic missile forces training exercise. (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/WikiCommon)
June 29, 2021

On Monday, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency first reported Russia secretly carried out a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch in mid-June, a timeline that coincides with President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first face-to-face meeting on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In mid-June, the latest unique ballistic missile developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology was successfully test-launched from the Plesetsk spaceport,” an unnamed Russian defense source told TASS.

The approximate timing of the reported Russian ICBM test coincides closely with Biden and Putin’s first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January. Following their meeting, the Biden White House and the Putin Kremlin released a joint statement saying they are both committed to efforts to extend the New START nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Russia. “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” their joint statement read.

Russia’s MITT did not provide an official comment to TASS on the reported ICBM test launch.

The exact details of the new ICBM that was tested are unclear, though TASS reported Russia’s MITT has started developing the new Kedr ICBM system. The secretive Kedr missile project reportedly entails a missile that can be launched both from a silo or mobile launcher system.

The Kedr ICBM is meant to be a solid-fuel missile. A solid fuel system confers some advantages over a liquid fuel system. Solid fuel can be stored within a missile in a ready-to-use state, whereas liquid fuel cannot be stored with a missile and has to be loaded separately when the missile is ready to be launched. The ability to store a missile with its fuel system in place also makes it easier to quickly transport the missile without having to arrange separate transports for fuel, giving hypothetical missile mobilizations a lower profile that may not be detected the way a more resource-intensive liquid-fuel missile would.

Russia’s MITT has previously developed the country’s land-based Topol, Topol-M and Yars ICBMs and the sea-based Bulava ICBM.

Russia reportedly plans to have the new Kedr missile systems replace the current arsenal of Yars missiles by the early 2030s, according to The National Interest.

Kedr is part of an overall effort by Russia to modernize its nuclear force. While the Kedr is set to replace the Yars ICBM, the Topol-M is set to replace its 80’s-era predecessor, the original Topol ICBM.

The current U.S. nuclear arsenal is also approaching to its lifespan and military leaders, lawmakers and policy advisors are divided on how to modernize the nuclear arsenal. The Biden administration is reportedly considering a planned 30-year, $1.2 trillion nuclear modernization plan. Some think tans have suggested efforts to extend the lifespan of the current U.S. ICBM arsenal or to just cut out the land-based component of the U.S. nuclear triad entirely. In January, Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said the cost to extend the life of the current arsenal of Minuteman III missiles would be more expensive than to replace them entirely with a new missile developed through the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program.