Russia rearms strategic missile forces

The Russian military in six years accepted into service 217 strategic ballistic missiles, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told the State Duma defense committee. Since 2012, the Strategic Missile Forces have received 109 RS-24 Yars ICBM and the Navy - 108 ballistic submarine-launched missiles. Russia is actively rearming its strategic nuclear forces, the Izvestia daily writes.

Russia rearms strategic missile forces
Topol-M ballistic missile displayed at Army-2018 near Kubinka (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The memorandum on primary data of START-1 Treaty fixed the detailed composition of Soviet and US strategic offensive arms in the autumn of 1990 to implement the main idea of the treaty and halve the arsenal of strategic carriers. The Soviet Union had 2,500 ICBM, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers (a total of 10,271 nuclear charges). The heavy bombers will not be considered, as their share was relatively small and did not affect strategic stability as missiles did. But the United States had an advantage in them (574 aircraft and 2353 charges against 162 and 955 respectively of the USSR).

The Soviet ground grouping of the Strategic Missile Forces comprised 1,398 ICBM and 6,612 warheads. It consisted of 1,077 silo-based ICM (326 UR-100K, 40 RT-2, 47 MR-UR-100, 300 UR-100N (UTTKh), 308 R-36M2, 56 RT-23 UTTKh), as well as 321 mobile missiles (288 automobile-carried Topol and 33 RT-23UTTKh on trains. The seaborne strategic nuclear force comprised 940 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (192 R-27, 280 R-29, 224 R-29R, 112 R-29RM, 12 R-31, 120 R-39) with 2804 warheads.

What do the figures show? It is easy to see that despite a slightly bigger number of mobile missiles against stationary ones (1,261 against 1,077) the latter carried 5,994 warheads, i.e. two-thirds of total nuclear charges on strategic missiles. Over half of the warheads were carried by 308 heavy stationary ICBM.

The United States had a different structure. It had 1000 ground ICBM (450 Minuteman II, 500 Minuteman III, 50 Peacekeeper) with 2,450 warheads and 672 submarine-launched missiles (192 Poseidon, 384 Trident I C4, 96 Trident II D5) with 5760 warheads. It means the mobile component comprised 70 percent of all ICBM and submarine-launched warheads. It was a completely opposite picture than the USSR had.

What is the sense of the calculations? In the late 1980s, it was perceived that silo-based missiles with a big number of warheads were the most destabilizing factor which provoked the first use of nuclear weapons in case of a military-political crisis. There were two reasons for that.

Firstly, the missiles had a high hit precision which allowed destroying protected adversary targets with a relatively small number of charges. It developed them into a disarming and devastating weapon against nuclear forces.

Secondly, their coordinates were well known for adversary missiles. The more warheads can be destroyed with two-three charges, the more attractive is the idea of the counterforce and the more fearful is the immediate destruction of the missiles. There is a use-it-or-lose-it dilemma which does not stabilize a crisis but pushes the parties to a preventive strike to avoid it from the adversary.

A big share of mobile launchers (seaborne, on trucks and rail) makes the location of a major part of munitions unknown at any time and thus complicates the preventive strike and guarantees unacceptable damage of retaliation.

It ensures the opposite effect. Both parties see that it is impossible to destroy the adversary with the first strike without a large-scale retaliation. Therefore, such a structure does not escalate, but defuses the situation and does not provoke nuclear weapons engagement.

The considerations comprised the basis of the 1990 joint statement which for the first time formulated strategic stability principle as the elimination of stimulus for the first nuclear strike. It was proposed to increase the share of weapons with high survivability in a retaliatory strike (mobile complexes) and decrease the number of warheads on one missile.

In 1993, the parties went even further and signed START-2 which fully corresponded to the philosophy. They agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals to 3-3.5 warheads and only 1,750 could be carried by seaborne missiles with multiple reentry vehicles. Ground-based ICBM with multiple reentry vehicles were banned (only single warheads were allowed), as well as heavy ICBM in any form.

But it was an unaffordable task for the Russian economy at the time. It has to actually scrap the whole Strategic Missile Force, except for Topol missiles, and compensate the reduction by accelerated production of mostly seaborne missiles (as the treaty set different ceilings in favor of seaborne rather than ground carriers). The Americans could simply adjust the available force according to general cuts.

Thus, the treaty was progressive and logically correct, but absolutely inadmissible to Russia for resource considerations. It was necessary to look for a compromise and decrease the burden on the economy and keep most of the historically existing grouping at least up to the end of the life cycle. But Moscow could not reach different terms at the time and did not work hard to obtain them.

START-2 did not properly come into force although the State Duma was compelled to ratify it in 2000 after six years of resistance. However, the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty announced in December 2001 buried the Russian goodwill gesture and made START-2 history. It was replaced by hardly binding Moscow Treaty on strategic offensive reductions of 2002.

The Russian military in six years accepted into service 217 strategic ballistic missiles, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told the State Duma defense committee. Since 2012, the Strategic Missile Forces have received 109 Yars ICBM and the Navy - 108 ballistic submarine-launched missiles. Russia is actively rearming its strategic nuclear forces, the Izvestia daily writes.

In the 1990s, Russia builds up its strategic nuclear forces according to the aspiration that START-2 would come into force and be implemented. A new system of strategic missiles was chosen correspondingly. Everything was clear with the seaborne component. Borey-class project 955 had to be armed with Bark R-39 UTTKh, but later Bulava was selected. The ground component had to have silo-based and mobile Topol-M.

Topol-M was created in the framework of the Universal R&D of a new ICBM. It was developed since the late 1980s by the Moscow Institute of Heat Technologies and Yuzhnoe Design Bureau in Ukrainian Dnepropetrovsk (unified solid-fuel silo-based and mobile missile). In the early 1990s, the Ukrainian design was handed over to Moscow and the whole scientific and technical experience was accumulated according to new realities. Components were localized in Russia and the technical concept of the missile was remade (initially multiple warheads were planned, but Topol-M received a single warhead of increased power).

After START-2 collapsed, Russia used available research to create a new missile which partially inherited Topol-M design, but acquired multiple warheads (presumably with three low-yield charges). The missile is known today as Yars and the first test launch took place in 2007. It became operational in 2009.

The Yars is the main missile of the strategic forces. It replaces Soviet-made Topol, as its life cycle nears completion. A formation of silo-based Yars with UR-100N UTTKh missiles was deployed at the missile division in Kozelsk.

Bulava became the backbone submarine-launched missile. As the design and selection took much time like SSBN construction, an intermediate decision was made to upgrade the available arsenal. Thus, new warheads were created at the threshold of the centuries (Stantsia, Stantsia-2 R&D) for the family of R-29R missiles carried by submarines of project 667BDR and 667BDRM. A principally new missile R-29RMU2 (Sineva) and then R-29RMU2.1 (Liner) for project 667BRDM submarines was later designed and produced.

The final aim was the creation of a homogenous naval grouping of 14 SSBN of projects 955 and 955A armed with Bulava (eight submarines by 2011-2020 arms program and six in 2018-2027).

It is difficult to obtain specific figures in the sphere. However open sources and western analysis provide some conclusions. At present, the Strategic Missile Forces have four types of missiles: R-36M2 (40-50 in Dombarovsky and Uzhur positional areas), Topol (50-60), Topol-M (18 mobile in Teikovo and 60 silo-based in Tatishchevo), Yars (practically all mobile divisions and silos in Kozelsk). Shoigu said 109 Yars had been received since 2012, but missiles were delivered earlier since late 2009. The Military Balance cited last year data and said Russia possessed 117 deployed missiles: 103 mobile and 14 silo-based. Today they are likely to exceed 120. Thirty remaining Soviet silo-based UR-100N UTTKh are also related to strategic missile forces.

The seaborne nuclear component comprises six Dolphin-class submarines of project 667BRDM with 96 Sineva and Liner missiles, as well as three submarines of project 955 with 48 Bulava missiles. One Kalmar-class submarine of project 667BDR with 16 R-29RKU-01 missiles (Stantsia-2) remains operational.

As for September 2018, the data handed over by Russia to the USA in compliance with the New START were as follows: 517 deployed ICBM, submarine-launched and heavy bomber missiles with 1420 warheads. It is clear that Russia does not fully arm the missiles. All available carriers with a maximum warhead load make 1.6 thousand charges only on missiles (possibly more depending on the Sineva/Liner ratio in project 667BRDM). It is absolutely normal and the practice will continue if the controlling regimes are preserved. The Americans do it even more. Their Trident with 12-14 small or eight medium-yield warheads carries an average of 4-5 warheads, while Minuteman is armed with single warheads although it can carry three charges.

What will happen next? Firstly, all Soviet-era missiles will be decommissioned, as well as their Russian options: R-36M2, Topol (but not Topol-M), Sineva and Liner. The naval force will likely become homogenous with Bulava (possibly updated). The ground component will be rearmed with Yars. If necessary, a railway option can be deployed known as Barguzin (design completed, but no deployment because of economic reasons).

As for heavy R-36M2, they will be replaced by the RS-28 Sarmat. It will not take over excessive warheads if a nuclear arms race does not begin. The missiles will be deployed relatively slow and moderately armed with warheads. A part of them will be adapted for Avangard gliding reentry vehicles. However, it cannot carry a lot of them (2-3 instead of 10-15). Avangard is likely to be launched by old UR-100N UTTKh missiles stored in warehouses in an unfueled dry state. Twelve missiles will be deployed in Dombarovsky by 2027.

Much will depend on the fate of the New START. However, the strategic grouping will hardly radically change even if the restrictions collapse and an arms race begins. The same missiles will be used, but they may be armed in full, the Izvestia writes.

© Copyright 2019 TASS / Army Recognition Group SPRL. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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