16:13 GMT28 January 2020
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    Russia's ICBM design firm: looking back at a dramatic 60-year story

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti defense commentator Viktor Litovkin) - The Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), a major center largely responsible for the nation's strategic deterrent capability, has turned 60 - a milestone that calls for retrospections and assessments.

    MITT's latest intercontinental ballistic Topol-M (SS-27) and submarine-launched Bulava-30 (SS-NX-30) missiles have come a long way since May 13, 1946, when the institute, then State Design Bureau 1, was, for the reasons of strategic expediency, brass-plated Powder Projectile Research Institute and became part of the Soviet Agricultural Engineering Ministry.

    From the very start, the institute focused on solid-propellant technology, which has proved more advanced than the more powerful liquid propulsion over the years. Overall, MITT has over 70 missile systems on its record, 12 of them nuclear-capable. Others include 29 types of rockets and missiles for the Army (the old Luna-M tactical rocket is still operational in many countries, including Russia) and scores more for the Navy (just to mention the Vikhr, Liven, and, most recently, Medvedka ship-to-ship systems), Air Force (the most remarkable is the AS-71), Space Force, military engineers, and the Emergency Situations Ministry.

    On the surface, the institute has always been in the focus of Soviet leadership as everything came on first demand and it was raining awards and decorations - two Lenin Orders for the institute itself, two Hero of Socialist Labor Medals for the founder Alexander Nadiradze and one for his successor Boris Lagutin, 13 Lenin Prizes and 37 State Prizes for the staff and so on - but its history was also marked by bitter rivalries and dramatic turns.

    Competition came to a climax in the early 1960s with the greater battlefield role of theater-level missiles. In the ultimate battle, Nadiradze's Temp faced the Gnom, a missile made by Boris Shavyrin and Sergei Nepobedimy at Kolomna KBM now widely known for its Grouse and Grail shoulder-fired SAMs. The Temp's higher cross-country and concealment capabilities were long weighed against the Gnom's more powerful ducted engine and, therefore, higher payload.

    In the end, concealment prevailed as the wheeled truck the Temp was mounted on did not leave traces that could be seen from spy satellites, unlike the Gnom's tracked chassis. MITT won the first choice, the Gnom was shown only once at a military parade on Red Square, to the astonishment of Western diplomats, to be cancelled out afterwards. The Temp was commissioned fast though higher payload and range requirements later led to the heavier Temp-S and Temp-2S versions.

    A distant leader in nuclear missile technology thanks to the Temp, MITT also became the only choice for what came to be known as the Pioner (SS-20 Saber), a three-nuclear-warhead Russian response to the U.S. Pershing I and Pershing II deployments in Europe. At a range of 5,500 km, its upgrade Pioner-UTTKh had such accuracy that it became one of the reasons for signing the bilateral Soviet-American Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, which set the 5,500 km as the upper limit.

    Thus MITT contributed to nuclear disarmament, with all its 1,752 deployed and 845 ready-for-deployment missiles destroyed (the U.S. scrapped 859 and 283 missiles, respectively). This story had one particularly revealing episode when 72 sentenced Pioners were used in a U.S.-inspected wargame near the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. The U.S. team was clearly thrown off balance by the sight of scores of missiles launched within hours without a minor fault, which is probably why one Saber is still kept at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

    The Pioner was gone but the expertise soon led to a more sophisticated design, the strategic Topol (SS-25 Sickle) ICBM finished by Boris Lagutin after Nadiradze's death in 1987. The road mobile three-stage RT-2PM Topol with the effective range of 10,000 km was the first-ever antimissile defense penetrating system. Having 360 Topol missiles built on the 7x7 MAZ-7912 and MAZ-7917 trucks, the Soviet leaders deployed them in the Siberian taiga and deep forests in European Russia, invisible to the AWACS planes and spy satellites, since 1986. Now they are to be replaced by the more precise SS-27s.

    Another dramatic chapter in the story of the nation's top missile designer came immediately after the demise of the Soviet Union as MITT's Ukrainian- and Kazakh-based Topol contractors became independent, leaving Votkinsky Zavod in the Urals as the only production base. The loss was recoverable but needed political will, which was there in abundance, and money, which was in extremely short supply. Lagutin's successor Yury Solomonov, backed by the top military, was begging for money around the Kremlin and parliament, warning that a strategic gap was looming between the end of service life of old missiles and planned commissioning of new ones. They did not get a single "no" in response - yet not a single transfer to MITT's bank account.

    The problem became worse with the beginning of the Wild-West-style privatization of the defense industry, in which producers of strategic parts and materials switched to Coca Cola bottles and the like. The scramble for money that followed deserves a separate story. For MITT, it became an ordeal that dwarfed the competition drama of the Communist times.

    Yet Solomonov & Co won. On December 24, 1997, the first SS-27 was loaded into a silo in Tatishchevo, Saratov Region, the nuclear forces cluster that currently accommodates five full Topol-M regiments with, as on the first day of this year, 42 ICBMs on high-alert service. Solomonov, now 61, and a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has promised the first road mobile deployment at Teikovo, Ivanovo Region, later this year, and the commissioning of the submarine-launched Topol-M sister Bulava-30 (SS-NX-30) as soon as the navy completes the Project 955 Borei nuclear subs currently under construction in the Arctic Severodvinsk.

    President Vladimir Putin highly praised MITT's missiles in his recent public remarks, describing the Topol-M as "a missile that does not care" about whatever kind of defenses it might face, what with a hypersonic maneuverable re-entry vehicle shrugging off interceptors.

    MITT has ceased to be a purely defense firm and is currently engaged in many civilian programs as well, designing the Start space launch vehicles, the Ishim aircraft-based satellite orbiting technology, the new Moscow monorail transport system, the Zhavoronok independent wind power generators, water purification ozone plants, and so forth. Yet what makes the bulk of its fame is its great role in keeping peace and deterring adversaries.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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