Special Purpose Ghost-Train: What Makes The “Barguzin” Railway Missile System Dangerous?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



Thirty years ago in the Soviet Union the program of tests of the unique strategic weapon ended — the railway-based combat missile system RT-23 “Molodets”, known in the West as “Scalpel”. This train, capable of raining down three intercontinental ballistic missiles on the probable enemy, “gifted” the heads of western intelligence agencies an endless headache. Considering the huge extent of the railroads of the USSR and the number of trains travelling along them, it was impossible to find among them a launcher disguised under a regular carriage.

By the time of the collapse of the USSR our country had three missile divisions — 12 trains with 36 launchers. However, in 1993 Russia agreed to sign an agreement on the reduction of strategic offensive arms of START-II, which required the disposal of all RT-23 missiles. During the period from 2003 to 2007 all “Molodets” had been disposed of, except two, left as museum pieces. At the time it seemed that there was no need for them. In 2010 this railway-based combat missile system was suddenly remembered when relations between Russia and the West began to sharply deteriorate. In December, 2013, information appeared in the press about a revival in Russia of these systems on a new technological basis. And in July, 2017, the Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin reported that Russia is ready for the creation of new railway-based combat missile systems on the “Barguzin” project.

A train with a “surprise”

A railway-based combat missile system represents a strategic missile system of mobile railway basing externally indistinguishable from an ordinary freight train. Fully-equipped ICBMs, command points, technological and technical systems, means of communication are established, as well as staff officer-rocketeers are all placed in the carriages. In the event of the threat of nuclear war the railway-based combat missile system goes to routes of patrol and merges with a stream of other carriages. If “from above” the order for the use of combat arrives, the train stops and prepares to begin an attack. The shutters on the roofs of three carriages move outwards, and the mechanisms hidden inside bring the launch containers of missiles into a vertical position. A couple of minutes more and towards the aggressor three missiles fly from a cold launch, which in total carries 30 fighting blocks of individual targeting with a power of 550 kilotons each.

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In the USSR “Yuzhnoye” Design Office was involved in the development of this railway-based combat missile system. Academicians Vladimir and Aleksey Utkin became the chief designers. The task before the brothers wasn’t trivial: to “slot in” a missile with a launcher with a gross weight of more than 150 tons into a regular railway carriage. At this time this railway-based combat missile system had to accelerate to 120 kilometers per hour on rails. It was succeeded to resolve this issue, having created for the system strengthened carriages and special unloading devices that redistribute a part of the weight to the neighbouring carriages. The railway-based combat missile system had the possibility to move on the train tracks without there being a risk of “breaking” them. Eventually “Molodets” looked like an ordinary refrigerated, mail, luggage, or passenger train. Fourteen carriages had eight paired wheels, and another three carriages had four paired wheels. Thanks to all necessary stocks, the railway-based combat missile system could work in the autonomous regime up to 28 days.

Flight tests of the missile system were carried out in 1985-1987 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in whole 32 launches and 18 deployments of the railway-based combat missile system on the railroads of the country were carried out. Within the framework of the test operation, they travelled more than 400,000 kilometers in all climatic zones of the country — from the tundra to deserts. All this time the existence of the system remained secret for western intelligence agencies. The railway-based combat missile system was disguised flawlessly. The only unmasking factor was the unusual configuration of the train — it was dragged at the same time by three locomotives. Nevertheless, there were cases when even skilled railroad workers up close couldn’t understand that something was odd about this train.

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“Molodets” was officially adopted as a weapon in 1989. By then already five missile regiments were deployed — four in the Kostroma region and one in the Perm region.

In the 2000’s the railway-based combat missile system, according to international agreements, started to be disposed of. The command of the strategic missile troops decided to rely on the Topol-M movable ground-based missile system as the basis of the mobile components of forces of nuclear deterrent. However, over time it became clear that although it is difficult to trace a movable ground-based missile system, but nevertheless it is easier than tracing a railway-based combat missile system, which can “get lost in the crowd”. And in 2012 at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology work on a new train of strategic purpose began.

Guaranteed answer

There isn’t much information about the prospective railway-based combat missile system in open sources, but it is known that one train will already carry six ICBMs — most likely, three-stage solid propellant RS-24 “Yars”, which were also developed by experts of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology. One such ICBM is capable of toss forward three to six fighting blocks with a power of about 300 kilotons each at a distance of 12,000 kilometers. It is less than the RT-23, however “Yars” also weighs twice less, which simplifies its installation and transportation in a standard carriage. Besides this, only one locomotive will be used for dragging it, which makes operating the system easier and masks it better. It is supposed that the new railway-based combat missile system will be able to move all over the country, covering 1,000 kilometers per day.

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In November, 2016, at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome successful launch tests of a modification of the missile especially for a railway-based combat missile system took place. It is known that one railway-based combat missile system will be equated to a missile regiment, and the structure of the strategic missile troops must contain 5 missile regiments – 30 missile launchers. Most likely, work on the railway-based combat missile system will be financed in the framework of the State programme of arms for 2018-2025 and can already be operative in 2020-2021.

“In the event of the deployment by the US of new means of precision weapons including on the territory of America, the existence of the railway-based combat missile system will become a trump for us,” said the editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine Igor Korotchenko to RIA Novosti. “These systems create an uncertainty factor. The railway-based combat missile system, along with the mobile movable ground-based missile system, is the answer to the American concept of a global disarming blow by non-nuclear means, mainly cruise missiles. This doctrine means the destruction of the military-political leadership of the country, of points of management of troops, and silo launchers in one powerful blow. But if the enemy has no exact coordinates of all launchers, this concept doesn’t work any more”.

Moreover, even having completely destroyed our “nuclear triad” by a massive missile attack, the probable enemy won’t be able to deprive the movable ground-based missile systems of the possibility of carrying out retaliation. Many kilometers of railway tracks in Russia pass through rocky tunnels, which can be used as shelter for the railway-based combat missile system. And there is no guarantee that when the explosions cease, the sole ghost-train won’t return fire at the aggressor using all of its combat system from somewhere in the Ural Mountains.

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