Russia test fires nuclear-capable ballistic missile

Context: Russia has test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile “Bulava” capable of carrying nuclear warheads from one of its submarines. The 12-metre-long missile has a range of over 8,000 kilometres.

The launch comes just days after the Russian withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a move Russia argued was needed to bring its position in line with the United States. 

Ballistic Missiles

  • Ballistic missiles are long range rocket-propelled munitions/weapon systems that follow a parabolic trajectory to deliver a payload from its launch site to a predetermined fixed target. 
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Types of Ballistic Missiles:

  • Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM): Range from 300 to 1,000 kilometres.
  • Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM): Range from 1,000 to 3,500 kilometres.
  • Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) or long-range ballistic missile (LRBM): Range from 3,500 to 5,500 kilometres.
  • Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): Range greater than 5,500 kilometres. E.g., Agni-V 
  • Ballistic missiles follow a specific ballistic parabolic trajectory whose path is determined primarily by gravity and the missile’s initial velocity. However, they are not actively guided like cruise missiles throughout their entire flight.
  • Ballistic missiles travel at extremely high speeds (upto 24 Mach) during their terminal phase, making it challenging for defensive systems to track and intercept them in real-time. The rapid speed reduces the time available for a defence system to respond effectively.
  • Ballistic missiles are rocket-powered, their rocket engines use a combination of fuel and oxidizer to generate thrust. This allows the missile to continue operating in the vacuum of space.
    • Two primary components of the rocket propulsion system are the fuel and the oxidizer.
    • The fuel is typically a chemical substance that can burn and release energy, while the oxidizer is another chemical component that provides the necessary oxygen for combustion of fuel.
  • Ballistic missiles can carry conventional high explosives as well as chemical, biological, or nuclear munitions.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

  • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions, whether for military or peaceful purposes. 
  • Objective: To end nuclear testing and promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. By prohibiting all nuclear explosions, it aims to prevent the development of new nuclear weapons and promote global security.
  • Negotiation and Adoption: The treaty was subsequently opened for signature on September 24, 1996, and it has been signed by 187 countries and ratified by 178 countries as of October 2023.
  • Entry into Force: CTBT has not entered into force as of November 2023. CTBT requires that all 44 “nuclear capable” states (also known as “Annex II” states) ratify the treaty before it may enter into force. Eight Annex II states have yet to ratify the CTBT.
    • Countries that have signed but not ratified CTBT: United States, China, Egypt, Iran, and Israel. 
    • Those that have neither signed nor ratified: India, Pakistan and North Korea.
  • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization was established to oversee the implementation and verification of the CTBT. It is headquartered in Vienna, Austria, and is responsible for managing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and the International Data Centre (IDC) to detect and analyse nuclear test events.

Practice Question: 

Q. Consider the following statements with reference to Ballistic missiles:

  1. Ballistic missiles are generally long range missiles.
  2. A ballistic missile is actively guided throughout the entire flight.
  3. Ballistic missiles can carry conventional high explosives as well as chemical, biological and nuclear munitions.

How many of the statements given above are correct?

(a)    Only one

(b)    Only two

(c)    All three

(d)    None

Answer: (b) 

UPSC 2023

Q. Consider the following statements:

1. Ballistic missiles are jet-propelled at subsonic speeds throughout their flights, while cruise missiles are rocket-powered only in the initial phase of flight.

2. Agni-V is a medium-range supersonic cruise missile, while BrahMos is a solid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

a. 1 only

b. 2 only

c. Both 1 and 2

d. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (d)

Source: The Hindu

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