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From Cold War to Present: Russia's Nuclear Missile Armoured Trains and Their Impact on Global Stability

From Cold War to Present: Russia's Nuclear Missile Armoured Trains and Their Impact on Global Stability
photo: Alexei Danichev/Sputnik, Cold War to Present: Russia's Nuclear Missile Armoured Trains and Their Impact on Global Stability
31 / 03 / 2023

Continuing the series of articles on armoured trains, today we will look at how Russia has been using this type of train since World War I and World War II and how it has revived the concept in recent years by developing nuclear missile armoured trains with modern technology and strategic capabilities. This one will focus on the background, design, and potential implications of Russia's nuclear missile armoured trains.

The Soviet Union first developed a system of nuclear missile trains (RT-23 or Molodets and SS-24 or Scalpel) during the Cold War. Designed to transport and launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, they remained hard to detect and highly mobile. After the signing of the arms reduction agreement in the early 2000s, the system was decommissioned, but in the 2010s, as part of the modernization of its strategic nuclear forces, Russia announced plans to develop a new generation of nuclear missile trains.

Such trains consist of several prime components. First, they are driven by locomotives designed to carry heavy loads and operate in various conditions, designed to blend in with the conventional locomotives on the Russian railroad network.

Wikimedia Commons, Panther

The second barbed component is the missile cars themselves, which house intercontinental ballistic missiles and their launchers. The missiles are protected by heavy armour, and the cars can launch ICBMs from a hidden position.

In addition, the trains include additional cars (control and management centres, communication equipment, and crew cabins) that guarantee the autonomous operation of the trains for a long time.

The development of this type of armoured train has potentially dangerous consequences and has raised concerns about strategic balance, arms control, and, most importantly, the escalation from Russia's side, which is especially expected given the country's aggressive activities, in particular, the war in Ukraine, which has been hybridized since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and became full-scale on February 24, 2022, with an open military attack and invasion of Russian troops along the entire length of the common border and from the territory of Belarus.

Currently, there is no confirmed information about Russia's use of armoured trains in the war of aggression in Ukraine, but given the scale of the invasion, imperial ambitions and nuclear blackmail used by the Russian political leadership in response to military assistance to Ukraine from almost all civilized countries, it is quite possible that Russia may resort to using armoured trains in the future, among other military means. Moreover, it is known that since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been travelling by armoured train.

The development and deployment of such trains is a modern adaptation of a historical military concept and serves as a reminder of the constant evolution of military technology, which in turn requires responsibility, ongoing dialogue and cooperation to maintain global security, which Russia openly neglects.