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China scares the US with a Russian ‘nuclear ghost’

This post was published in Free Press. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – You cannot erase the words from the song. And if the Barguzin (the northeastern wind on Lake Baikal) is destined to “move the shaft“, then “the young man will not be far off.”

“Barguzin” and “Molodets” in our case are the names of BZHRK – a combat railway complex. Neither one nor the other in nature (in service with the Russian army) as such now does not exist, but the knowledgeable Chinese publication Sina in its military review claims that in the next 3-5 years the Russian strategic missile forces (Strategic Missile Forces) will receive BZHRK “Barguzin”. “Its characteristics are enough for the American military to freeze blood in their veins,” – fears Sina.

At one time, the BZHRK “Molodets” in the West was nicknamed the “nuclear ghost” because of its ability to covertly travel long distances and the ability to launch ICBMs from anywhere in the USSR, and then Russia and its allies. This complex, equipped with solid-fuel three-stage missiles RT-23 UTTH “Molodets” (the name of the missiles went to the complex itself) was in service with the Strategic Missile Forces from 1987 to 2005. In total, by 1991, 3 missile divisions were deployed in the state of which there were 4 trains, each with 3 launchers. That is, 36 ballistic missiles with an unexpected launch site could run across the country at the same time.

One of the advantages of the BZHRK was precisely its secrecy – the complex could not be distinguished from a freight train, even from a distance of several meters. The missiles were placed inside the cars and lifted to a horizontal position just before the start. There were also command posts in the cars.

The composition of such a “strategic train” consisted of up to 70 servicemen, even officers and warrant officers acted as drivers. Due to the large weight of the ballistic missile (the missile with the launcher weighed more than 150 tons), the range of movement of the BZHRK was limited – for each missile division, it was necessary to strengthen the railway track and bridges within a radius of 1,500 kilometers from their bases. However, taking into account the fact that the divisions were based in the Kostroma region, Perm and Krasnoyarsk territories and the missile launch range “Molodets” in 10,450 kilometers, they “covered” the territory of the United States almost completely.

To the great joy of the West and a sigh of relief for the United States, the “good fellow” was “buried” by Mikhail Gorbachev. After his meeting in 1991 with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, restrictions were imposed on the patrol routes of the BZHRK and they were on alert in places of permanent deployment, without going to the railways of the country. That is, they lost their mobility and secrecy.

There were also problems with the RT-23 UTTKh missiles themselves with a service life of 15 years, which were produced by PO Yuzhmash in Ukraine. And already in early May 2005, Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov, then commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, announced that the BZHRK was finally removed from combat duty. “Molodtsov” was disposed of (let on metal), leaving as exhibits two “truncated” and demilitarized “rocket trains”, which can be seen in the Museum of Railway Technology at the Baltic Station in St. Petersburg and in the Technical Museum of AvtoVAZ.

However, the song would not have been a song if it had not returned – the BZHRK “Molodets” should be replaced by a similar complex “Barguzin”, with improved characteristics and a new missile. And it was not the Chinese Sina that “revealed the secret”. Talk that the Ministry of Defense does not exclude the possibility of resuming the use of military railway complexes began in Russia in September 2009.

In December 2011, the commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, General Sergei Karakaev, announced this, and in April 2013, the then Deputy Minister of Defense Yuri Borisov announced the resumption of development work by the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering on the creation of a new generation BZHRK. In May 2016, it was announced the start of the creation of individual elements of the railway complex, called “Barguzin”, and towards the end of the year at the Plesetsk cosmodrome, successful drop tests of the missile for the BZHRK took place.

However, the reason for the joy of the Russian strategic missilemen turned out to be premature – in December 2017, it was announced that the development of the complex was terminated for economic reasons. On March 22, 2018, TASS, citing a source in the Russian Ministry of Defense, reported that the RS-26 Rubezh mobile complex and the Barguzin BZHRK were excluded from the state armaments program until 2027. The reason for the exclusion was the inability to finance these programs. We must assume that this is a temporary ban and that intercontinental ballistic missiles will still roll on wheelsets along the Russian railways.

The completion of the creation of the Barguzin BZHRK was prevented by the missile of the RS-26 Rubezh (Avangard) complex, the lack of funding for which also pulled the “rocket train” back. Actually “Avangard” is not a rocket in the direct sense of the word – it is equipment for strategic missile systems, the basis of which is a hypersonic maneuvering unit. The Vanguards were mine-based and will be installed first on the UR-100N UTTH Stilet intercontinental ballistic missile, and later they will be replaced by the Sarmat ICBM (RS-28).

In this “missile priority” for “Barguzin”, neither the RS-24 “Yars” ICBMs intended for it (as planned), nor the continuation of this project in the form of the promising RS-26 “Rubezh” were not enough. “Yars” are now used both for silo-based and in the version of a mobile ground-based missile system. This rocket, whose weight does not exceed 50 tons, could well be suitable for a BZHRK and be transported on the basis of an ordinary freight car with a carrying capacity of 66-68 tons, and six missiles can already be “crammed” into the train.

For the transportation of the “rocket train” one diesel locomotive would be quite enough, and not three, as for the “Molodets” complex, again, it would not require reinforcement of the railway track. All this could significantly increase the secrecy of the train and reduce the cost of its operation.

The Chinese now believe that the Barguzin BZHRK project can be launched again. “The vast territory of Russia is very suitable for the creation of this type of rocket train, which is also a headache for the United States,” – writes now in his military review Sina, listing the advantages of this complex, including its enormous power, high stealth and camouflage, which surpass those that were at the complex “Molodets”. At the same time, the Chinese publication notes that “although this system is very powerful and can pose a serious threat to the United States, it cannot become the basis of Russia’s missile armament. Rather, it can become additional equipment for other missile systems.”

It is worth noting here that the Chinese comrades are not very much mistaken with the timing of the return to the Barguzin BZHRK project, allotting 3-5 years for this. It is likely that it will appear in the Russian army even earlier than 2027, the period for which funding was “cut”, because the need for such a complex really exists.

The railway version of the covert redeployment of missiles will complement the capabilities of mobile ground-based missile systems and silo-based ICBMs, because it will be extremely difficult to track it down, which means it will be extremely difficult to destroy it. There is only a little left – to find funds to bring the case to an end.

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