R-12 ballistic missile

Originated as a spin off from original production infrastructure, a design bureau in Dnepropetrovsk gained enough experience at the beginning of the 1950's to initiate its own projects of ballistic missiles . The first major program both conceived and manufactured by Yangel's collective was a medium range missile, designated R-12.

R-12 missile lifts off from Kapustin Yar.

Seeking longer range for rockets with storable propellants, Yangel team proposed a design capitalizing on two Korolev's programs. (24) The combination of nitric acid as oxidizer and kerosene as a fuel had been already tested on the short-range R-11 missile. However the R-12 program targeted much longer 2,000 km range, therefore the vehicle's dimensions and the airframe was based on then most powerful Soviet rocket -- R-5.

Yangel's OKB 586 participated in the R-5 project as a manufacturer. Valentin Glushko, the head of major Soviet rocket engine center OKB-456 and a longtime advocate of storable propellants, proposed to develop an entirely new engine for the R-12, despite being already involved in the work on power plants for Korolev's R-7.


According to the official history of Yuzhnoye bureau, the R-12 project was approved on February 13, 1953, by the Council of Ministers of the USSR. (23) Veteran of the early Soviet space program B. Chertok wrote that Yangel got governmental approval of the project in August 1955. (27)

In the Soviet industrial paperwork the vehicle was identified as 8K63, and in the Western classification the rocket became known as SS-4 Sandal.

Like the RD-107 engine on the R-7 rocket, the new powerplant for the R-12, had four non-movable high pressure combustion chambers, allowing to increase thrust without building big chambers. Designated RD-214, the engine also featured centrifugal pumps and a turbine powered up by the decay products of nitric acid.

Tail rudders were chosen instead of traditional vernier engines to control the rocket in flight. Since the RD-214, was too large to fit into diameter of the airframe inherited from the R-5, a conical tail section was added to the R-12 to house the engine.

Nikolai Pilugin, the head of leading control system bureau, convinced Yangel to introduce fully-autonomous control system in the R-12 instead of traditional radio control, requiring a network of ground stations, as it was the case with R-5 and R-7. Also, the R-12 rocket became the first to carry a one-megaton thermonuclear warhead, as oppose to previous nuclear warhead installed on the R-5.


In March 1957, R-12 was statically tested in for the first time on the stand in the town of Zagorsk (now Sergiev Posad).

The first test launch of the missile came on June 22, 1957, in Kapustin Yar.

In September 1958, Khrushchev personally visited Kapustin Yar to witness the launch of R-12, as well as its competitor R-5M. The latter had already been accepted into armaments at the time. The R-12 launch was a success and the next month, mass production of the vehicle started in Dnepropetrovsk.

Test launches proved that with the new control system, average deviation of the warhead from the target would not exceed 2.3 km. The total time of ground preparation for the R-12 was more than three hours. (27)

For the work on R-12, on July 10, 1959 Factory 586 and adjacent OKB 586 received Order of Lenin, while Hero of Socialist Labor (the highest industrial award) were awarded to Yangel, Smirnov and Budnik.

The R-12 was later modified (under code 63Sh) to test a then-new concept of silo-based missiles. The new underground launch complex, code-named Mayak-2 (Beacon-2) was constructed in Kapustin Yar.

In September 1959, the R-12 took off from a silo complex for the first time. Following December, Strategic Rocket Forces were formed within the Soviet Army recieving the R-12 as its first weapon.

Serial production of engines for R-12 missiles was apparently organized at the city of Perm, where a new test facility was built for live firings of engines near the town of Novye Lyady. The first engine was fired at the site during the night from October 13 to October 14, 1961.

K experiments

Since the beginning of the 1960s, R-12 missiles were used as targets for developing anti-missile defense system "A."

On March 4, 1962, the V-1000 anti-missile intercepted the R-12 missile for the first time.

In July 1962, two R-12 rockets were used in the project K-1 and K-2. The vehicles were launched with live nuclear charges detonated in the upper atmosphere to test radar and other radio devices' performance. (27)

The Cuban missile crisis was hardly resolved, when on October 28, 1962, another R-12 missile was launched with a live nuclear charge from Kapustin Yar. In experiment K-4, the nuclear device was detonated at the altitude of 150 km. According to the plan, two R-9 rockets launched from Tyuratam simultaneously with the R-12 had to fly in the vicinity of the explosion. However, both R-9 missiles failed seconds after liftoff.

Cuban missile crisis

In October 1962 the R-12 missiles appeared on the stage of the world's most dangerous standoff, as the aftermath of Khrushchev's decision to deploy them on the island of Cuba.

Boris Chertok in his memoirs (27) provided details about the Cuban missile crisis based on information from Smirnitsky, a senior scientist from the rocket military institute NII-4, who was Chertok's friend. As a member of a group of the Soviet rocket experts headed by Marshall Biruyzov, Smirnitsky visited Cuba, before final decision to place missiles on the island had been made.

According to these recollections on October 4, 1962, the first R-12 were ready for fueling and mating with its nuclear warhead. By October 10, ten more missiles were ready and by October 20, 20 vehicles were at their positions.

Chertok doubts reports about complete readiness of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Citing Smirnitsky, he wrote that at no time during the crisis, the missiles had been mated to their warheads.



Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: October 18, 2021

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An R-12 missile on the launch pad in Kapustin Yar. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


The R-12 ballistic missile. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

Scale model of the R-12 ballistic missile on a trailer. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

The RD-214 engine. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak