Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Russia tests new rocket to beat missile defenses

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia successfully test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday featuring multiple warheads which can overcome missile defense systems, the defense Ministry said. A ministry spokesman said the RS-24 missile was fired from a mobile launcher at 1020 GMT from the Plesetsk cosmodrome about 800 km (500 miles) north of Moscow. Less than an hour later, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces command said the missile had hit its targets at the Kura test site on the sparsely inhabited far eastern peninsula of Kamchatka to the north of Japan.

"The RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile will strengthen the military potential of Russia's strategic rocket forces to overcome anti-missile defense systems and thereby strengthen the potential nuclear deterrent of Russia's strategic nuclear forces," the Strategic Missile Forces command said in a statement. The launch comes amid a row between Moscow and Washington over U.S. plans to build a system in Europe to detect and shoot down hostile missiles. Russia believes the missile defense shield is a threat to its security while Washington dismisses such fears, saying the shield is intended to counter rogue states.

President Vladimir Putin promised in February this year a "highly effective response" to any U.S. efforts to deploy missile defenses, raising fears of a new arms race between the former Cold War foes. Further escalating the tension, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday that the deployment of medium and short range missiles by Russia's neighbors to the east and south now posed a "real threat".

"The Soviet-American treaty (on intermediate nuclear forces) is not effective because since (its signature) scores of countries have appeared that have such missiles while Russia and the United States are not allowed to have them," Ivanov told a military-industrial commission in the southern city of Znamensk. "In these conditions, it is necessary to provide our troops with modern, high-precision weapons." Ivanov, a former defense minister and leading hawk, is widely tipped as a front-runner to succeed President Vladimir Putin in elections next March though he has not said whether he will run.

The new RS-24 missile tested on Tuesday can be armed with up to 10 different warheads and is intended to replace Russia's earlier generation intercontinental missiles such as the RS-18 and RS-20. Its development is part of a drive to re-equip Russia's military with updated weaponry and replace hardware dating from the Cold War. Missiles carrying multiple independently targeted warheads are more difficult to intercept and destroy completely once they have been fired, making defenses against them much harder.

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