Russia tested a new and experimental type of intercontinental-range ballistic missile multiple warhead delivery method in September.

According to a U.S. government source with knowledge of the test, Moscow’s strategic missile force conducted a test of an independent post-boost vehicle (IPBV) configuration for the military’s solid-fuel, road-mobile RS-24 Yars ICBM involving three separate warheads.

Officials said the test was conducted on Sept. 12, and that the missile was launched from Russia’s Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka Krai. The test took place a few days before the massive Zapad (West) 2017 exercises held between Russian and Belarussian forces.

It’s unclear if this was the first test of an IPBV configuration on a Russian ICBM. Officials said the test was reportedly successful.

A Russian Defense Ministry official told the country’s state-run TASS news agency that the September 12 test involved an experimental “detachable” warhead design.

 

It’s not clear if the missile test also involved the use of decoys and other penetration aids that would make the missile more able to survive U.S. missile defenses.

Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capable ICBMs normally feature what’s known as a post-boost stage that can maneuver while outside the earth’s atmosphere—after the launch vehicle’s powered flight has concluded at high altitudes—to dispense individual warheads to multiple targets at different approaches, allowing a single ICBM to strike targets separated by great distances.

The independent post-boost vehicle configuration tested by Russia is based on a similar concept, but would presumably allow for more complex and flexible targeting off a single ballistic missile in midcourse. Post-boost vehicles are not considered to be a separate missile stage as they do not generally enhance range; they can allow for more precise guidance and targeting.

Analyst comment: Russia is continuing to strengthen its nuclear deterrence while also putting resources into asymmetrical tactics such as electronic warfare and cyber warfare. President Vladimir Putin and his national security team have decided these are the most effective ways to deter the U.S. and NATO rather than match American military strength carrier for carrier, tank for tank, plane for plane.