Image: Satan missile launch
An artist's conception shows the launch of a Soviet-era SS-18 "Satan" intercontinental ballistic missile from its silo. A Satan missile is to be launched on Dec. 22 as part of Russia's effort to move space operations within its borders.
updated 12/22/2004 2:09:45 PM ET 2004-12-22T19:09:45

Russia successfully test-fired a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday in a launch intended to extend the lifetime of aging Soviet-built weapons.

It was the first time that an RS-20V Voevoda, which NATO identifies as the SS-18 Satan, had been fired from its combat positions in Russia since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Previously, such missiles had been launched from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

The missile, which was launched from a silo in the Orenburg region in the southern Ural Mountains, hit a designated target on a testing ground on Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, more than 3,750 miles (6,000 kilometers) away.

"The main result of the launch was the confirmation of the technical characteristics of the missiles, which have no analogues in the world," Russia's Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement. It added that the missile had been on combat duty for 16 years before the launch.

The Russian strategic forces have conducted regular test launches of Soviet-built ballistic missiles to check their readiness. The post-Soviet funding shortage has left the military struggling to extend the lifetime of Soviet-built missiles, since the government lacks the funds to quickly replace them with new weapons.

Military officials have said that Russia would keep its arsenal of about 150 SS-18s for another 10 to 15 years, even though the missiles were already past their designated lifetime and were to be scrapped this decade under earlier plans.

The heavy missile, capable of slamming 10 individually guided nuclear warheads at targets more than 6,800 miles (10,800 kilometers) away, is the heaviest weapon in Russia's inventory. The SS-18 and another multiwarhead missile, the SS-19, have formed the core of the Russian strategic forces since Soviet times.

Some SS-18s have been converted into launch vehicles for scientific payloads, and Russian observers have speculated that the converted peacetime missile, known as the Dnepr, could be launched from Russian silos. So far, Dnepr rockets have been launched only from Baikonur.

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