R-16 (missile)

Last updated
R-16 [1]
SS- 7 Saddler.gif
Service history
In service19611976
Used by Soviet Union
Production history
Designer Mikhail Yangel , Valentin Glushko
Manufacturer Plant 586 , Glushko OKBM , Hartron OKB
Mass140.6 tonnes (154.98 tons)
Length30.4 m (99.73 ft)
Diameter3.0 m (9.84 ft)
Blast yield3-6 Mt

Engine3x RD-217/218/219 first, two-stage, storable liquid
(AK27I + UDMH)
11,000-13,000 km
inertial guidance
Accuracy2.7 km

The R-16 was the first successful intercontinental ballistic missile deployed by the Soviet Union. In the West it was known by the NATO reporting name SS-7 Saddler, and within Russia, it carried the GRAU index 8K64.



The missile was 30.4 m long, 3.0 m in diameter and had a launch weight of 141 tons. The maximum range was 11,000 km with a 5-6 Mt thermonuclear warhead and 13,000 km with a 3 Mt warhead. The missile had a circular error probable (CEP) of 2.7 km.


R-16 R-16U.svg

During development, a massive failure occurred on October 24, 1960, when a prototype rocket exploded on the pad killing at least 78 personnel. After decades of coverup, the government finally revealed this incident, referred to as the Nedelin catastrophe.

After the delays associated with the deaths of many people working on the project, the first flight of the missile took place on 2 February 1961. Initial operational capability was achieved on 1 November 1961. The missile continued to serve until 1976, with maximum deployment numbers reached in 1965 with 202 missiles deployed. The Soviets had fewer than 50 of these missiles deployed in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is possible that only around 20 interim R-16 launchers were operational during the height of the crisis.

The R-16 was a true first-generation intercontinental missile and a vast improvement over the largely experimental 'zeroth' generation R-7 Semyorka. The missile used a hypergolic bipropellant combination of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) fuel in combination with red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) oxidiser. The Soviets initially deployed it at soft sites which were not shielded from nuclear attack. On normal duty the missiles were stored in hangars, and it took one to three hours to roll them out, fuel them, and reach launch readiness. The missiles could remain fueled for only a few days due to the corrosive nature of the nitric acid. After this, the fuel would have to be removed and the missile sent back to the factory for rebuilding. Even when fueled and in an alert posture, the Soviet missiles still needed to wait up to twenty minutes to spin up the gyroscopes in their guidance systems before launch was possible. Despite these shortcomings, the R-16 was unquestionably the first truly successful intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the Soviet Union.

The Soviets were aware of the missile's vulnerability, and from 1963 onward some R-16U missiles were based in silos, with around 69 silo launchers put into service. Each launch complex consisted of three silos clustered together for economic reasons to allow them to use a common refueling system, making them vulnerable to a single U.S. missile.

The control system of this rocket was designed at OKB-692 [2] (Kharkiv, Ukraine).


Flag of the Soviet Union.svg  Soviet Union
The Strategic Rocket Forces were the only operator of the R-16.

See also

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  1. Pavel Podvig (2004). Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces. MIT Press. ISBN   0262661810. The R-16 missile was the first intercontinental missile with storable liquid fuel
  2. Krivonosov, Khartron: Computers for rocket guidance systems