The SSC-8 is a Russian ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) labeled a “missile of concern” by the United States after being test launched from a road-mobile launcher in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.1 Moscow claims the missile is fully compliant with the INF Treaty.
SSC-8 at a Glance
Originated from: Russia
Possessed by: Russia
Alternate name(s): 9M729, SSC-X-8 (experimental designation)
Class: Ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM)
Length: 6-8 m
Diameter: 0.533 m
Payload: Single warhead, 450 kg
Range: 500-5,500 km (est. 2,500 km)
In service: 2017
Russia reportedly began covert development of the SSC-8 in the mid-2000s, and started flight testing in 2008.2 It was first test fired in July 2014.3 It was again reportedly test fired on September 2, 2015, although U.S. officials said it did not fly beyond the 500 km INF range limit.4
A November 2018 DNI statement clarifies Russia’s testing regime: “Russia initially flight tested the 9M729 – a ground based missile – to distances well over 500 kilometers (km) from a fixed launcher. Russia then tested the same missile at ranges below 500km from a mobile launcher. By putting the two types of tests together, Russia was able to develop a missile that flies to the intermediate ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty and launches from a ground-mobile platform.”5
The missile is likely a ground-launched variant of the Russian Navy’s 3M-54 Kalibr missile (NATO: SS-N-27 Sizzler). It has also been reported as a modified version of the Iskander-K or Kh-101. It was originally designated in U.S. reports as the SSC-X-8, but officials removed the “X” when it transitioned from an experimental to operational weapon.6 The missile was developed by Russian company NPO Novator.
The SSC-8 is a ground-launched cruise missile approximately 6-8 m in length and 0.533 m in diameter. It has reportedly been tested at various ranges, but the 2017 U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) published a maximum range of 2,500 km.7
The missile employs a guidance system developed by Russian defense manufacturer GosNIPP.8 Its mobile launcher is reportedly distinct from but “closely resembles” the INF-compliant Iskander-M TEL (9P78-1), which, if true, would complicate future arms control verification.9Some analysts suspect the SSC-8 uses the 9P701 TEL.10
In February 2017, U.S. officials reported that Russia had deployed two SSC-8 missile battalions. One was deployed at Russia’s Kapustin Yar missile test range, located in southwest Russia. The second was moved in December 2016 from Kapustin Yar to an unknown operational base. Each battalion includes four launchers, and each launcher is supplied with an estimated six missiles. As of December 2018, Russia has produced fewer than 100 SSC-8 missiles.11
In January 2014, the United States informed its NATO allies of a Russian missile that violated the range and launcher regulations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In a July 2014 official compliance report, the United States found the “Russian Federation in violation of its obligations under the INF treaty not to possess, produce, or flight test a GLCM with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”12 While the missile was not named at the time, analysts today acknowledge the SSC-8 is the non-compliant missile referred to in the report.
In November 2016, the United States called for a special verification commission to deal with Russia’s alleged INF violation. Parties involved in this discussion included the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Russia maintained the SSC-8 did not violate INF principles, and the commission did not advance.
As first reported in November 2017, the United States has responded to Russia’s SSC-8 development with R&D on its own ground-launched, intermediate-range missile. While this R&D is permitted under INF guidelines, its flight testing and/or deployment would not.13 This decision was later confirmed in the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review: “The United States is commencing INF Treaty-compliant research and development by reviewing military concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems.”14
On October 19, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty due to Russian violations. “We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we’ve honored the agreement. But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”15
On January 23, 2019, Russia publicly displayed the SSC-8 missile for the first time. Lt. Gen Mikhail Matveevsky, chief of the military’s missile and artillery forces, argued that 9M729 missile features a more powerful warhead and improved guidance system over the previous 9M728 model. It does not, however, have an increased range. Matveevsky also claimed the presentation highlighted Russia’s “increased transparency and our adherence to the INF Treaty.”16