Russian nuclear forces, 2003

As of mid-2003, Russia has approximately 8,250 operational nuclear warheads in its arsenal. This includes about 4,850 strategic warheads, representing a slight decrease from last year’s level due to the removal of some MIRVed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Our estimate of Russia’s operational non-strategic nuclear weapons—3,400—remains unchanged from last year.

Estimating the size, composition, and status of the Russian nuclear stockpile has always been difficult. At the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Soviet Union may have had as many as 35,000 nuclear weapons—though not all of them were fielded.

The number of warheads in the Soviet arsenal peaked in the 1980s, after which the Soviets began to dismantle them on a substantial scale. Estimates of the dismantlement rate vary widely, from hundreds to 1,000–2,000 per year. U.S. Defense Department and CIA estimates suggest that Russia dismantled slightly more than 1,000 warheads per year throughout the 1990s. A few oblique Russian statements have hinted at a faster rate. It has been impossible to learn the pace of dismantlement, whether it has been steady or intermittent, or the size of the arsenal when the effort began. Based on the best available information, we estimate that the total current arsenal of intact warheads is around 18,000. Of those, some 8,250 are considered active and operational; the rest occupy an indeterminate status. Some may be officially retired and awaiting disassembly; others may be in short- or long-term storage, similar to the American categories of “responsive force” and “inactive reserve.”

One important recent development was the demise of the START II Treaty, precipitated in part by the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and its signing of the Moscow Treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified the Moscow Treaty on March 6, 2003, by a vote of 95–0; the Russian Duma ratified it on May 14, 2003, by a vote of 294–134. Though the START II Treaty never entered into force, both Russia and the United States had been following its terms to structure their forces. One of its significant requirements was a ban on MIRVed (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) ICBMs; now, after START’s collapse, Russia has reversed course and plans to retain its multi-warhead SS-18s and SS-19s as the core of its strategic nuclear arsenal until at least 2016. Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced in June, “The Russian Federation notes the absence of any preconditions for START II to come into force and no longer considers itself committed to the international legal obligations” of the treaty.

In his State of the Nation Address on May 16, President Vladimir Putin spoke of strengthening and modernizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent by creating new types of weapons, including those for strategic forces, that will “ensure the defense capability of Russia and its allies in the long term.”

Intercontinental ballistic missiles. With START II a dead letter, Russia has stopped withdrawing and destroying its SS-18 MIRVed missiles. A total of 138 SS-18s remain in service: 52 at Dombarovski, 40 at Kartaly, and 46 at Uzhur. A fourth division at Aleysk was disbanded in 2001, and the last of 30 silos were destroyed on January 31, 2002. Under START II, the full phase-out of the missiles was to be completed in 2007. Now, two of the three remaining divisions, or perhaps all three, will be retained until 2016. Some SS-18s may be retired by 2015 or earlier due to aging. Two variants of the SS-18 are currently deployed: the RS-20B and the newer RS-20V. Although START counted all SS-18s as carrying 10 warheads, the RS-20B can carry a single warhead, and a few of these may be deployed. The missile system will be reconfigured to extend its service life. A fully loaded SS-18 has a range of 11,000 kilometers; the single warhead can reach 15,000 kilometers.

Nine rail-based SS-24 M1s are deployed at Bershet and 15 at Kostroma. The 12 SS-24s at the third division at Krasnoyarsk were reportedly taken off alert duty on March 14, 2002, and disbanded, although the unit is still listed in the January 2003 START Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Russia’s MIRVed SS-24s were slated to be scrapped under START II, but the head of Strategic Missile Forces, Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, announced in August 2002 that one division would be retained, probably at Kostroma.

Production of the single-warhead SS-27 (called the Topol-M in Russia) continues and is a priority item in the 2003 Russian military budget. Because it is retaining MIRVed missiles, Russia feels less urgency to steadily produce and deploy the SS-27/Topol-M. Deployments have been slow. In 1998 the Strategic Rocket Forces planned deployment of 20–30 per year over three years and 30–40 per year for the next three years for a force of 160–220. In fact, deployment in 2003 includes only 30 missiles, with a future force of 50–60 by the end of 2005. Russia may eventually decide to equip some of the missiles with multiple warheads. The SS-27s are housed in former SS-19 and SS-24 silos at Tatishchevo.

Recent ICBM test launches include the firing of an SS-19 (RS-18) missile from the Baikonur Space Center on December 10. The missile’s six dummy warheads impacted on the Kura test range on the Kamchatka peninsula. An SS-25 was launched from Plesetsk on October 12, 2002. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on March 18, 2002 that it would resume test launches of the SS-27 and a Topol-M was launched on June 6, 2002.

Ballistic missile submarines. Russia maintains 14 operational nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs): two Typhoons, six Delta IVs, and six Delta IIIs. This is a dramatic reduction from 1990, when 62 subs were reported operational. The subs carry three types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs): 40 SS-N-20s, 96 SS-N-23s, and 96 SS-N-18 M1s, respectively. All Yankee, Delta I, and Delta II SSBNs have been withdrawn from operational service. Of the original 14 Delta IIIs, seven have been removed from service, and one has been converted to a deep submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) carrier. Of the original seven Delta IVs, one has been removed from service. Operational SSBNs in the Northern Fleet are based on the Kola Peninsula (at Nerpichya and Yagelnaya) and in the Pacific Fleet (at Rybachi, 15 kilometers southwest of Petropavlovsk) on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The future of the last two (of six) Typhoon submarines in the Northern Fleet has long been in question. In March 2001, the Russian Navy announced its intent to overhaul and keep in service three Typhoon subs. The Arkhangelsk was reported to have left dry dock and returned to its base at Zapadnaya Litsa on November 9, 2002. The Dimitri Donskoi completed a 10-year conversion in June 2002 as a trial platform for the future SS-N-27 Bulava, an SLBM version of the Topol-M ICBM.

This summer, the Delta IV sub Yekaterinburg will rejoin the Northern Fleet after having completed scheduled repairs at the Zvyozdochka shipyard at Severodvinsk. Two other submarines of this class, the Tula and the Bryansko, are under repair at the shipyard.

Interfax reported on April 21, 2002, that the first unit of the new Borey-class SSBN, the Yuri Dolgoruki, had left dry dock at the Severodvinsk shipyard. Its keel was laid in November 1996, but construction has been intermittent and was suspended altogether in 1998 while the submarine was being redesigned to accommodate a new SLBM. The Russian Navy hopes to commission the first boat in 2005.

Production of SS-N-23s resumed in 1999 to support the remaining Delta IVs, along with a service life extension program. There are reports of an SS-N-23 SLBM variant under consideration that would carry 10 warheads instead of four. The CIA concluded in 1988 that the SS-N-23 Mod-2 (RSM-54) SLBM provided Russia with, “an emerging sea-based capability to destroy hardened targets.”

SLBM combat training launches were conducted on October 12, 2002 from the Pacific Fleet and Northern Fleet in conjunction with exercises involving ICBM, cruise missile, and ABM tests.

Economic problems, a shrinking SSBN fleet, and safety concerns after the sinking of the Kursk in August 2000, have led to dramatic decreases in the number of annual SSBN patrols, from 37 in 1991 to zero in 2002, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. Patrols of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and cruise missile submarines (SSGNs) also declined from 18 patrols in 1991 to only three in 2002.

Strategic aviation. Russian strategic bombers include 79 aircraft of three types: 15 Tu-160 Blackjacks, 34 Tu-95 MS6 Bear H6s, and 30 Tu-95 MS16 Bear H16s. Strategic bombers are part of the Russian Air Force’s 37th Air Army. According to the January 31, 2003 START I Treaty MOU, Bear bombers are deployed at the following airbases: 14 H16s at Ukrainka in Siberia (79th Heavy Guard Bomber Regiment), 13 at Engels (121st Heavy Bomber Regiment), and three at Ryazan; 26 H-6s at Ukrainka, five at Engels, and three at Ryazan.

Russian strategic aircraft carry AS-15A/B air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), AS-16 short-range attack missiles (SRAMs), and/or nuclear bombs. Combined, the 79 aircraft are assigned an estimated 864 cruise missiles and bombs. Each Blackjack can carry as many as 12 AS-15B ALCMs or AS-16 SRAMs and bombs. The Bear H16 carries as many as 16 AS-15A ALCMs and bombs, while the Bear H6 can carry as many as six AS-15A ALCMs and bombs. For more than a decade, Russia has been developing a nuclear variant of a new cruise missile, similar to the U.S. advanced cruise missile, but with a prop engine, for Blackjack and Bear bombers. In January 2002, the missile was reported to be in final stages of development. Russia may convert some ALCMs to non-nuclear missiles, as the United States has done. Flight tests of converted ALCMs have taken place.

Fifteen Blackjacks are based at Engels airbase. Eight were transferred to Russia from Ukraine in late 1999 and early 2000 in exchange for partial payment of Ukrainian natural gas debts. These bombers’ operational status has been unclear due to needed repairs. In March 2002, air force commander in chief Vladimir Mikhailov announced that all 15 Tu-160s would undergo modernization of avionics, communication equipment, and weapon systems. The modernization will extend their service lives and allow them to carry “new types of missiles with conventional and nuclear warheads.” In addition, three partially built Blackjacks were scheduled to be completed by 2003 and added to the force.

In April 2002, strategic bombers participated in a large-scale exercise with aircraft operating out of Engels, Ukrainka, and Ryazan air bases, as well as from several forward operating bases. The strategic aircraft included Tu-95 MS Bears and also tactical Tu-22 M3 Backfire bombers. As many as 20 aircraft were reported to be in the air simultaneously in what was described as the largest exercise in 10 years. Operations took place over the entire Russian territory, the Arctic, and the Sea of Japan. Japanese fighters intercepted bombers over the Sea of Japan, and two Bear bombers flew within 37 miles of U.S. airspace, where U.S. fighters intercepted them. Similar operations took place in February 2001.

Two other exercises were held in February 2002. One, in Russia’s southwestern region, included two Tu-95 MS Bear bombers conducting simulated cruise missile and bomb strikes on targets in Astrakhan oblast and the Leningrad district. The other, in the Caspian Sea region, involved strategic Tu-160 Blackjacks, Tu-95 MS Bears, and tactical Tu-22 M3 Backfire aircraft conducting simulated missile launches on the Ashuluk and Vladimirovka ranges.

Strategic forces
  Type Name Launchers Year deployed Warheads x yield (kiloton) Total warheads  
  SS-18 Satan 138 1979 10 x 550/750 (MIRV) 1,380  
  SS-19 Stiletto 134 1980 6 x 550/750 (MIRV) 804  
  SS-24 M1 Scalpel 36 1987 10 x 550 (MIRV) 360  
  SS-25 Sickle 342 1985 1 x 550 342  
  SS-27 n.a. 30 1997 1 x 550 30  
  Total   680     2,916  
  SS-N-18 M1 Stingray 96 1978 3 x 200 (MIRV) 288  
  SS-N-20 Sturgeon 40 1983 10 x 100 (MIRV) 400  
  SS-N-23 Skiff 96 1986 4 x 100 (MIRV) 384  
  Total   232     1,072  
  Tu-95 MS6 Bear H6 34 1984 6 AS-15A ALCMs or bombs 204  
  Tu-95 MS16 Bear H16 30 1984 16 AS-15A ALCMs or bombs 480  
  Tu-160 Blackjack 15 1987 12 AS-15B ALCMs, AS-16 SRAMs, or bombs 180  
  Total   79     864  
  Grand total   991     ~4,850  
  ALCM—air-launched cruise missile; AS—air-to-surface missile; ICBM—intercontinental ballistic missile, range greater than 5,500 kilometers;  
  MIRV—multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles; SLBM—submarine-launched ballistic missile; SRAM—short-range attack missile  

Zdroj: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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