Not the Hand of God: What Saved Moscow From Nuclear Strike During Cold War


Intercontinental ballistic missiles added significantly to the USSR’s security at the height of the Cold War in the early 1980s, when then-US President Ronald Reagan notoriously referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”.

17 December marked the 40th anniversary of three advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) – RS-16B, RS-18B, and RS-20B – entering service with the Soviet Armed Forces.

Here’s a brief insight into the ICBMs that certainly poured enough cold water on the US and its allies’ ambitions to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union in the heat of the Cold War.


This modernised version of the R-16 ICBM was undoubtedly military hardware to be reckoned with, especially given its blast yield of up to 16 Mt, which was much more powerful than that of the “Fat Boy” atomic bomb dropped by the Americans on Japan’s city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

The 30-metre-long RS-16B had an operational range of up to 13,000 kilometres, which meant that it could reach any American city if launched.

The missile was equipped with an autonomous airborne targeting system, “Meridian”, which allowed the missile to be launched and enter its trajectory even after a possible nuclear explosion near the launch site. This significantly increased the ICBM’s survivability in the event of a first strike by a potential enemy.


This ICBM carries six warheads with a capacity of 750 kilotons each, as well as an array of…

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