CNN, Shame! Raise Your Standards! “Russia unveils ‘Satan 2 Missile”

CNN: “The warhead will weigh 100 tons…”


It’s tragic when a news outlet considers musical scoring of their “news” more important than accuracy. The last time I flagged CNN, it was in CNN and Yellow Journalism, “U.S. bomber flies over DMZ” In their endless quest for shock value, CNN have done it again.

Super heavy lift missiles exist, but the RS-28 is not one of them. The 100 tons referred to is the gross weight of the missile, not the warhead. The maximum payload, the combined weight of all the warheads it can carry, is about 10 tons.

It was already possible for Russia to destroy the U.S., and the U.S. possesses reciprocal capability. The strategy is called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), and it is very old news. The greatest value of the new missile is in the inducement of irrational fear. CNN, in their quest for fear-driven readership, serves the Russian cause admirably. Of course, it helps when a weapon is named “Satan.” It’s just in time for Halloween.

Some points to consider:

  • The U.S. has never had the capability to defend against a Russian missile strike, nor does Russia have the capability. Hence the ability of the new Russian missile to evade U.S. defenses is meaningless.
  • The destructive power of a nuclear warhead increases by a small (exponent < 1) fraction of a size increase. For this reason, the U.S. has emphasized smaller, more accurate warheads. They work better.
  • DoD experts have studied the problem of deterrence for decades. The problem is well under control.
  • The real fear is on the part of the Russians. There is no such thing as a strategic arms race without the participation of both parties. I suggest we let it remain a Russian preoccupation.

The RS-28 is described as liquid fueled. In military use, for prompt launch time, the use of hypergolic propellants is required. Quoting The Register,

Further tech details are not forthcoming, although it’s assumed the RS-28s will use the same RD-274 engine cluster (4 x RD-273 units) burning a hypergolic mix of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and N2O4 (nitrogen textroxide) that lift the R-36M2 Voevoda. The advantage of this system is that the fuel components are comparatively easy to store over long periods, as opposed to cryogenic fuels.

These chemicals, identical to the propellants of the retired U.S. Titan II,  are lethally poisonous, corrosive to the rocket, and tend towards explosions.  In 1965, a Titan II complex fire killed 53.  A 1980 Arkansas explosion resulted in one fatality, but destroyed the launch complex and blew the nuclear warhead 100 feet. This is why the U.S. nuclear arsenal includes no liquid fueled rockets such as the Russian Satan.  NASA’s advice here. The rocket may be more dangerous to the Russians than anybody else.

CNN, there is absolutely no excuse for this. None, nada!

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