Experts assess prospects of Russian, US strategic nuclear forces

The Russian-US New START Treaty is likely doomed and will become history in the coming years following the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty (INF). The Military-Industrial Courier assesses prospects of the development of the Russian and US nuclear forces.

Experts assess prospects of Russian US strategic nuclear forces
Mobile Yars RS-24 missile launchers are procured for the Russian Strategic Missile Forces to replace ageing Soviet-built Topol (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The US Department of State published START figures as for March 1, 2019. Russia said it deployed 1,461 warheads and 524 carriers. Total carriers, including non-deployed ones, number 760. In September 2018, the figures were 1,420, 517, and 775 correspondingly. The US strategic nuclear arsenal comprised 1,365 warheads, 656 deployed and 800 total carriers in March 2019 (1,398, 659 and 800 in September2018).

In several years, the START ceilings (1,550/800/700) will restrict Russia more than the Americans. The upgrade and upkeep of the nuclear arsenal in the coming 30 years will cost the United States 1.2 trillion dollars, according to a report of the budget committee of the Congress published on November 1, 2017. The Air Force wants to focus the main R&D on attack systems, in particular, strategic B-21 bomber and intercontinental ballistic missiles of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD) to replace B-1B, B-2 and Minutemen III ICBM.

The US Navy is working to build nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles (SSBN) codenamed SSBN-X. In 2016, the project was named after the lead SSBN the Columbia (onboard number SSBN-826). A series of 12 SSBN is planned to replace 14 operational Ohio-class submarines. The Pentagon pays much attention to the priority programs.

The pullout from START will help Russia increase its nuclear forces, mostly the Strategic Missile Forces. It can deploy 46-50 launchers of heavy Sarmat RS-28 ICBM instead of 24.

Mobile Yars RS-24 missile launchers are procured for the Russian Strategic Missile Forces to replace ageing Soviet-built Topol. The 39th (Nizhny Novgorod) and the 42nd (Nizhny Tagil) missile divisions (six regiments of 54 RS-24 missiles), and the 54th division (two regiments of 18 RS-24 and two regiments of 18 RS-12M1 Topol-M) have been fully rearmed with new missiles. The 35th and the 7th divisions are waiting for their turn. The 28th missile division in Kozelsk (two regiments of 10 missiles) is switching to silo-based Yars RS-24. In 2021, Sarmat is expected to be deployed in the 13th (Dombarovsky, Yasnaya) and the 62nd (Uzhur-4, Solnechny) regiments to replace R-36M2 Voevoda. At present, the 13th division has three regiments with 18 R-36M2 and the 62nd - four regiments with 28 missiles.

In March 2018, a source in the Defense Ministry told TASS mobile RS-26 Rubezh and Barguzin rail-carried missile complexes were excluded from the arms program up to 2027. Instead, the program includes Avangard silo-based missiles which are more important for national defense. The first two were excluded as it is impossible to simultaneously finance them.

The deployment of hypersonic Avangard and the heavy Sarmat ICBM is likely to be limited at least in the first years. The 2018-2027 arms program says two regiments may have six missiles each in the 13th division. There will be 12 single-block carriers. UR-100N (15A35) will carry the first hypersonic Avangard which is a big missile. UR-100N can carry one block while Sarmat - three. Three-block Avangard is just an option. Sarmat ICBM is a classical missile with 16 independently targeted reentry vehicles of 2 megaton each.

The nuclear VNIIEF institute created in ten years three new types (for ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missiles) of reentry vehicles of small, medium and high yield - 150, 500 KT and 2MT.

Western experts estimate the Russian Strategic Missile Forces had 318 combat missile systems of five various types in early 2019. The ICBMs carry 1,165 warheads. The forces comprise three armies: the 27th, 31st, and 33rd. The share of modern missiles comprises 82 percent in the forces.

The Russian-US New START Treaty is likely doomed and will become history in the coming years following the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty (INF).The Military-Industrial Courier assesses prospects of the development of the Russian and US nuclear forces.

The ground component of the US nuclear strategic forces comprises 400 Minutemen III ICBM which are a part of the three missile wings of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) which are similar to Russian divisions. Each has 100 or 150 silo launchers in two or three squadrons of 50 ICBM. Russia has new missiles while the latest US ICBM are 42 years old and the oldest have 46 years.

Minuteman III production stopped in February 1977. The last 19 missiles were produced in January. Their output in 1960-1977 comprised 2,423 units. In 1978, the SAC decided to upgrade the missile to increase the chance of destruction of the fortified silos of new Soviet fourth-generation missiles. In 1979, the consultative council of the Air Force recommended to urgently upgrade Mk.12 warheads and double precision and power to Mk.12A level. Los Alamos national laboratory, which is experienced in the development of miniature high-power ICBM warheads, was entrusted the design of the thermonuclear charge. W-78 product emerged in 1974. The primary 117E module (nuclear igniter) had a completely new design and the secondary one developed W-50 which was produced in big numbers. The product had the same size as W-62 and was installed into Mk.12. No changes in the construction were necessary. The throw-weight increased insignificantly from 1,150 to 1,200 kg, but it affected the range. It decreased from 13,000 to 11,300 km and made Soviet missiles in the south of the country invulnerable for Minutemen.

The deployment of W-78/Mk.12A instead of old W-62/Mk.12 took place from December 1979 to February 1983. 300 out of 550 Minutemen III were armed with them. Not only did the range decrease, but the space of reentry vehicle separation did as well. Therefore, some ICBM remained on duty with old and less effective, but lighter reentry vehicles W-62/Mk.12.

Work was ongoing in 2000 to extend the life cycle of remaining missiles up to 2030. In 2006, the Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicle (SERV) program replaced Mk.12/W-62 on 200 missiles by single-block Mk.21/W-87. Most Minutemen had flight controls replaced by new NS50A which decreased Guidance Replacement Program (GRP) to 90 km.

The first Minutemen stage of all modifications comprises the main Thiokol M55 solid-fuel engine. Its hull is produced of stamped plates. The first stages of Thiokol M55 underwent Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP) in 1998-2009. The second and third stages are unfit for such a renewal because of technological reasons as the hulls are made of fiberglass. They are filled with classical Thiokol fuel which is TP-H1011 mixture of 1.3 class. The use of modern recipes is fraught with unpredictable changes in flight characteristics.

At present, the United States does not have new missiles or nuclear warheads even on paper. All projects undergo R&D at the initial design stage called phase 1, the Military-Industrial Courier writes.

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