Fractional Orbital Bombardment System

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Fractional Orbital Bombardment System

The Fractional Orbital Bombardment System[1] (FOBS) was a Soviet ICBM program in the 1960s that after launch would go into a low Earth orbit and would then de-orbit for an attack. The development of the FOBS was one of the first steps taken by the Soviet Union to utilize space for the delivery of nuclear warheads.[2] The primary objective of the FOBS was to bypass the weapon detection systems in the United States.[2] In order to accomplish this, the FOBS was designed to briefly place nuclear warheads into the Earth's orbit. After orbiting for a short period of time, the bombs would deploy and fall to their targets from space.[2] The system shares many similarities with the concept of kinetic bombardment systems, with the exception of the use of a nuclear warhead as opposed to an inert projectile. This weapon system also had no range limit and the orbital flight path would not reveal the target location. This would allow a path to North America over the South Pole, hitting targets from the south, which is the opposite direction from which NORAD early warning systems are oriented.

Early demonstration

A weapon with this capability was first demonstrated by the Soviet SS-9 Scarp, which was capable of space-launch, in 1967.[3] However, the accuracy of these FOBS missiles was unclear, because they only partially orbited earth and had lower re-entry angles.[3]

Reasons for development

The FOBS testing and development most likely indicated that the leadership in the Soviet Union viewed space as the ultimate high ground.[2] This means they saw space as the ideal medium from which they could deploy nuclear weapons.[2] Space was seen as ideal, because it would allow the Soviet Union to quickly and efficiently deploy nuclear weapons, which would be able to reach their target in an incredibly short amount of time.[2] The bombs would not have to travel from continent to continent. Instead, they would fall from earth's orbit, thus decreasing the overall flight time.[2]

Outer Space Treaty

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned nuclear weapons in Earth orbit. Even though the Outer Space Treaty was passed, the military and government leadership in the United States determined that a FOBS missile was technically not in orbit, because it did not make a complete cycle around the earth, and therefore decided not to officially ban it.[2]

Development history

The Soviets developed three FOBS missiles, with only one entering service:

  • The orbital missile 8K69 (also known as R-36orb) was initially deployed in 1968, with the first regiment put on alert in 1969.
  • The Global Rocket 1, or GR-1, was cancelled in 1964 due to engine problems.
  • The R-46 planned in the 1960s, for which the development was never initiated.

The U.S. Defense Support Program early warning satellites, first launched in 1970, enabled the US to detect a FOBS launch.


The SALT II agreement (1979) prohibited the deployment of FOBS systems:

Each Party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy:


(c) systems for placing into Earth orbit nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction, including fractional orbital missiles;

While the provisions laid out in SALT II, or the second Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty, aimed to ban the use of FOBS missiles, it was never actually ratified by the United States Senate.[4] This unratified treaty would have called for the deconstruction of multiple FOBS vehicles that were being developed by the Soviet Union.[2] It would have also banned the future testing and construction of future FOBS missiles.[2] Even though the SALT II treaty never became official, the Soviet Union still adhered to it and cancelled their testing of the FOBS.[2] The missile was then phased out in January 1983 in compliance with this treaty.

Cancellation of FOBS Testing

After the testing of this weapon system was halted, the Soviet Union went back to using space as an area for conducting reconnaissance missions with satellites.[2]

In the 2010s it was reported that the new Russian RS-28 Sarmat heavy ICBM could be FOBS-capable.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "The Soviet Fractional Bombardment System. By: Miroslav Gyürösi
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mowthorpe, Matthew (2004). The Militarization and Weaponization of Space (1st ed.). New York: Lexington Books. 
  3. ^ a b Fought, Stephen (n.d.). "Strategic Missiles". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 8, 2017. 
  4. ^ Diehl, Paul (Winter 1990–1991). "Ghosts of Arms Control Past". Political Science Quarterly. 105: 597–615. 
  5. ^ "Sarmatian ICBM & FOBS Reintroduction". Retrieved 6 April 2017. 

External links

  • The Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System Program
  • R-36-O / SL-X-? FOBS
  • OGCh
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