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Soviet Nuclear Weapon Photos - 1

During the Cold War of the 1960s and '70s, the US kept most of their ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles External link opens a new Browser window) in underground missile silos External link opens a new Browser window, hardened against direct attack. However, with the development of increasingly more precise inertial guidance systems, they were rendered somewhat less protected than they might have been. The US spent considerable effort in the 1970s and 1980s designing a land-mobile replacement, but none of the complex systems were ever produced, mainly due to budgetary concerns by Congress.

The Soviet Union, in contrast, kept a number of their nuclear missile systems mobile, and were thus much less easy to locate and destroy. This Blog, in 2 parts, brings you some photos of two different mobile Soviet nuclear weapon systems that I photographed on my recent trip to Russia: the 'RT-2PM Topol', and the 'RT-23 Molodets'.

The 'RT-2PM Topol' External link opens a new Browser window, known to NATO by the name 'SS-25 Sickle', is a land-based missile system. This three stage solid propellant rocket, with an operational range of 10,500 km (6,500 miles), became the first Soviet mobile ICBM to be successfully deployed. It is mounted on the MAZ-7917 External link opens a new Browser window, a 14x12 artillery truck designed and developed by MAZ, Minsk automobile plant, in what is now the country of Belarus. Accompanying the missile when it is deployed in the countryside are two other vehicles: a 4x4 Mobile command post that carries the required support facilities, and a Communications Relay Station that uses Troposheric communications antennas mounted on an extendable lattice mast.

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View of Missile Launch Vehicle through fence

Its not everyday that one chances upon land-based nuclear weapon systems, so I was more than surprised to see a full RT-2PM Topol detachment when rounding a corner in down-town St Petersburg. The first glimpse I had was through a thick fence, topped with barbed wire. A sentry box stood close by, but was un-occupied at the time. Was it safe to stand and look? Was I breaking a whole bunch of military regulations by just being there? On my last visit to the Soviet Union in 1981, I had unwittingly photographed the notorious Lubyanka Prison External link opens a new Browser window, headquarters of the KGB, but apart from a brief and mysterious arrest and interrogation by the authorities in Leningrad, nothing more occured. Things are a bit more relaxed in Russia in these post-Soviet days, but was it safe to chance a photo or two? I was about to find out.

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Tropospheric Relay Station, Mobile command post, and Transporter Erector Launcher behind fence

Making my way along the fence, I cast furtive glances at the impressive RT-2PM Topol missile and its huge 7-axle multi-terrain transport vehicle. Parked alongside were the Communications truck, with its tropospheric dishes deployed, and the large Command and control truck. All was quiet, no guards were in the vicinity...

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RT-2PM Topol mounted on its MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck

I then noticed that other members of the public were walking by without a second glance. Was it a daily occurence for a nuclear launch facility to be parked there? Were they keeping their eyes averted for a reason? Then a party of school children ran by, swung on the railings, rounded another corner, and started climbing on a range of other military vehicles parked in a group. A ticket office stood nearby, and the explanation dawned at last - I was looking into the grounds of the Saint Petersburg Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signals External link opens a new Browser window !!

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Tropospheric Relay Station, Mobile command post, and Transporter Erector Launcher. Note the guard-dog kennel on the left!

Once I realised that all was OK, I wasted no time in getting my camera out and taking some shots of these impressive vehicles. I hope you enjoy taking a look too. Please note that all images are available for commercial licensing, in a range of sizes - contact me with your detailed requirements for further details.

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RT-2PM Topol mounted on its MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck

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RT-2PM Topol mounted on its MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck - diagonal view

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RT-2PM Topol mounted on its MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck - side view

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RT-2PM Topol mounted on its MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck - side view

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Missile Launch Vehicle - closeup of front

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Missile Launch Vehicle - closeup of centre

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MAZ-7917 14x12 artillery truck - front view

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Mobile command post - diagonal view

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Mobile command post - side view

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Mobile command post - side view

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Front of Mobile command post

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Mobile command post: note the armored turret with machine gun at the rear

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Mobile command post - detail of front side

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Tropospheric Relay Station - diagonal view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - closer view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - side view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - detail of dishes and extending lattice-mast

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Tropospheric Relay Station - side view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - diagonal view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - front view

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Tropospheric Relay Station - diagonal view

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Tropospheric Relay Station, Mobile command post, and Transporter Erector Launcher. Note the guard-dog kennel on the left!

Please visit the second part of this Blog to see photos of another ex-Soviet nuclear weapon system, the 'RT-23 Molodets' - known to NATO by the name 'SS-24 Scalpel' - its a rail-based intercontinental ballistic missile system.

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