SS-18 “Satan”

The SS-18 Satan is an intercontinental-range, silo-based, liquid propellant ballistic missile initially developed by the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. It is believed that a total of six versions have existed since the program’s inception, with only the Mod 6’s still operationally deployed.1

At a Glance

Originated From: Russia
Possessed By: Russia
Alternate Name: Satan, R-36M, RS-20 15A14/15A18
Class: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
Basing: Silo-based
Length: 36.6 m (Mod 1/2/3), 36.3 m (Mod 4), 34.3 m (Mod 5/6)
Diameter: 3.0 m (maximum for all Mods)
Launch Weight: Approximately 191,000 kg (all Mods)
Payload: Single warhead or 8 MIRVs (Mod 1/2/3), 10 MIRV’s (Mod 4), single warhead (Mod 5), 10 MIRVs (Mod 6)
Warhead: Nuclear
Propulsion: Two-stage liquid propellant
Range: 10,200 -16,000 km (Mod 1/2/3), 11,500 km (Mod 4), 16,000 km (Mod 5), 11,000 km (Mod 6)
Status: Operational
In Service: 1975-1983 (Mod 1/2/3), 1979-unknown (Mod 4), 1988-present (Mod 6), undergoing retirement

ss-18The SS-18 (original Mods 1/2/3) entered development in 1964 as a leaner and more advanced replacement for the SS-9 missile. By 1969 the design of the missile had been finalized, with various versions conceptualized.2 The flight tests started in 1973 and the Mod 1/2/3 versions of the missile were declared operational in 1975 within converted SS-9 missile silos and launch complexes. Soon after, designs began for the Mod 4 (R-36MUTTH) system, which entered service in 1979 and was commissioned the year after. The Mod 5 and 6 versions (R-36M2) were also being designed around the same time frame, and ultimately put into combat duty in 1988.3

Over time, early versions of the SS-18 have been retired. All Mod 1/2/3 missiles were removed and replaced by the Mod 4 by 1983, with an approximate SS-18 arsenal of 308 missiles at the time.4 This number was required due to the SALT I Treaty between the U.S. and USSR. Following the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), Russia was required to reduce its arsenal of SS-18 missiles to 154 by 2003.5 As of April 2016, there are 46 SS-18 missiles, all Mod 6’s, reportedly operational.6

SS-18 Mod 1/2/3 (R-36M Mod 1/2/3)

The first three initial versions of the SS-18 were designed to have either a single warhead or MIRV capability. Reporting differs as to which Mod had which buildout. Regardless, these original Mods set in motion the basic design for the SS-18 missile. The two stage missile was the first in the Soviet arsenal to be pressurized by a “controlled fire” in the fuel and oxidizer tanks.7 The Mods underwent a variety of tests during the 1970’s, and displayed a 1,000 m CEP, with the missiles reportedly being capable of reaching distances between 10,200 and 16,000 km depending on the model.8 These Mods were soon phased out by 1983 for the Mod 4 variant.

SS-18 Mod 4 (R-36MUTTH)

The goal of the Mod 4 design was to improve the SS-18’s tactical performance and improve its accuracy over the Mods 1/2/3. It had a reported accuracy is 920 m CEP. Its reduced warhead yield allowed for greater range, as well as the ability to carry more warheads. 9In 1988 the Mod 4 began to be replaced by the Mod 5 and 610

SS-18 Mod 5/6 (R-36M2)

The Mod 5 and Mod 6 entered into service in 1988, only the Mod 6 remains operational as of 2016 The Mod 5 contained a single re-entry vehicle with an 8 MT warhead and an accuracy of 500 m CEP, with a range is 16,000 km.

The Mod 6 has 10 MIRV, with each warhead having a 500-750 kT yield and an accuracy of 500 m CEP. The range is 11,000 km. It uses two tiers on its instrument section to house its 10 MIRVs. 11 The Mod 5 and Mod 6 both received improved protection against nuclear warhead effects, improved decoys and penetration aids, increased MIRV coverage, and a rapid re-targeting capability. 12

The remaining SS-18 Mod 6s are expected to remain in service until its successor, the SS-X-30 (RS-28 Sarmat), becomes operational.

    1. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian Nuclear Forces, 2016,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 72, no. 3, 126, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00963402.2016.1170359.
    2. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 215.
    3. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 217.
    4. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 219.
    5. “RS-20/R-36M/15A14/15A18,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2015), 95-97.
    6. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian Nuclear Forces, 2016,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 72, no. 3, 126, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00963402.2016.1170359
    7. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 217.
    8. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 218.
    9. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 217.
    10. “RS-20/R-36M/15A14/15A18,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2015), 95-97.
    11. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), 220.
    12. “RS-20/R-36M/15A14/15A18,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2015), 95-97.