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10 Jan 04,, 19:56
Army Deploys Batch Of Topol-M Missiles

The Associated Press The armed forces have deployed another batch of its state-of-the-art intercontinental nuclear missiles after a break in the program caused by a funding shortage.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov inaugurated the new set of Topol-M missiles at the Tatishchevo missile base in the Saratov region Sunday, describing them as a "21st-century weapon" unrivaled in the world.

"This is the most advanced state-of-the-art missile in the world," Ivanov said in remarks broadcast by local television stations Monday. "Only such weapons can ensure and guarantee our sovereignty and security and make any attempts to put military pressure on Russia absolutely senseless."

The Interfax-Military News Agency said six Topol-Ms were deployed Sunday.

The first 10 such missiles entered duty in December 1998, and two more sets followed in the next two years. The military had planned to continue the deployment in regular installments in the next two years, but only got the fourth batch of Topol-Ms out on Sunday.

The Topol-M missiles, capable of hitting targets more than 10,000 kilometers away, so far have been deployed in silos. Its mobile version, mounted on a heavy off-road vehicle, is set to become operational next year, Strategic Missile Forces chief Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov said in televised remarks.

Izvestia said the Topol-M lifts off faster than its predecessors and maneuvers in a way that makes it more difficult to spot and intercept. It is also capable of blasting off even after a nuclear explosion close to its silo, the newspaper said.

The Topol-Ms deployed so far have had single nuclear warheads, but it is planned to equip each missile with three individually targeted warheads, Izvestia said.

However, Topol-M chief designer Yury Solomonov told Izvestia that a severe money crunch had put the program in jeopardy.

Budget allocations for making Topol-Ms next year were halved without consulting its makers, he said. If the government does not revise its course, "2004, or 2005 at the latest, will be the last year when we will be able to carry out serial production of high-tech products for the military," Solomonov added.

A subcontractor producing artificial fibers for the missile suspended production last year for several months because of a money shortage, and when it resumed work, its products were substandard for two months, Solomonov said.

Such problems will persist and be exacerbated as 80 percent of equipment at defense plants has served for more than 30 years, he added.

"We are getting crumbs from the budget, which makes it impossible to modernize our production facilities," Solomonov said.

As the Topol-M program faced difficulties, the military has sought to maintain nuclear parity with the United States by extending the lifetime of its Soviet-era missiles.

The Interfax-Military News Agency on Monday quoted military officials as saying that a next-generation heavy nuclear missile capable of carrying 10 nuclear warheads could enter service after 2009, and a new strategic bomber could become operational in 2014-2016.