October 12, 2008
PLESETSK COSMODROME, Russia (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev oversaw the test firing of an intercontinental Topol missile on Sunday and vowed to commission new generation weapons for Russia's armed forces.
A Reuters reporter said the truck-mounted Topol was fired at 3:23 a.m. EDT in drizzling rain from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, which is nestled among the taiga forests of Russia's north.
Half an hour later it hit the Kura testing site, 6000 km (3700 miles) away on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Pacific.
"I have just been told that the dummy warhead has landed in Kura," Medvedev said from the Topol launch pad where acrid smoke from the missile still hung thick in the air.
"We will continue to commission new types of weapons but we will also continue testing the ones we have now," said Medvedev. "Their effectiveness has been proved by time. Our shield is fine."
Russian nuclear submarines also successfully test fired two ballistic missiles from the Pacific Ocean and Barents Sea on Sunday to targets inside Russia, the navy said.
Medvedev, who was sworn in as president in May, has moved to beef up Russia's armed forces after a five-day conflict in Georgia this August which sparked a row with the United States and European Union.
Dressed in the army's new-style leather jacket -- with a badge saying commander-in-chief -- Medvedev inspected the 21.5 meter Topol rocket before the launch.
The rocket is designed to pierce anti-missile defense systems such as those that the United States wants to build in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin has opposed Washington's plans.
Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, raised defense spending during his eight-year presidency to revive Russia's armed forces, which had been drained in the 1990s by corruption, low pay and a lack of funding.
Russia's strategic bombers have restarted regular patrols over the Atlantic Ocean, irking NATO, and a group of the Northern Fleet ships is on its way to the Caribbean to take part in joint exercises with U.S. foe Venezuela.
Two Russian warships and their support vessels docked in Tripoli ahead of making the transatlantic trip. Russia on Saturday test-launched a strategic missile to the equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
The RS-12M Topol, called the SS-25 Sickle by NATO, has a maximum range of 10,000 km (6,125 miles).
"This missile and others which will be commissioned in the next few years are capable of effectively providing the nuclear deterrent and ensuring the security of Russia and its allies," Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov, Commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, told Medvedev.
The Topol, a highly mobile missile designed in Soviet times, is a key part of Russia's nuclear deterrent.
But Russia has extended their use way past the 10-year guaranteed operational life set by the manufacturer and the launch on Sunday was aimed partly at testing how the rockets would fire after having their operational life extended so far.
"An extension of the operational life of the Topol rocket complexes ... will allow the systematic replacement of rockets being taken out of use with new generation rockets without any peak load on the military budget," Interfax news agency quoted Alexander Vovk, an adviser to the head of Russia's strategic forces, as saying.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Angus MacSwan)