Bill Sweetman reports for Aviation Week & Space Technology, Nov. 11, 2013, that Russia is making new nuclear delivery systems a national priority, motivated by its perception of conventional-force weakness relative to the U.S., NATO and China. That weakness, in turn, stems from the Russian economy’s inability to support rapid modernization of air, land and naval forces.
But some western experts argue that the Russian emphasis on nuclear weapons is destabilizing and could lead to the breaking of some nuclear weapon treaties.
Russia’s new nuclear efforts include:
- Arming its bomber fleet with a new cruise missile.
- Plans for a new bomber.
- Continued deliveries of a modern, road-mobile ICBM.
- Reportedly, a new silo-based heavyweight weapon.
The largest Russian program is the modernization of its strategic missile forces. President Vladimir Putin pledged in 2012 that those forces would receive more than 400 new missiles within 10 years, a complete overhaul of the arsenal.
Some of these new missiles are already in production:
- After Russia declined in 2002 to ratify Start II (in response to the U.S. abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty), development started on a version of the Topol-M with MIRVs. This, the RS-24 Yars, was declared operational in mid-2011 in its silo-launched version, and it is now replacing the single-warhead Topol-M across the board in both silo-launched and road-mobile versions. At some silo sites, Yars is replacing the aging liquid-fueled UR-100Nutth (SS-19). Yars is variously reported to be capable of carrying four or six MIRVs.
- Topol/Yars technology forms the basis of the RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, developed in parallel with the Project 955 Borey-class SSBN. The first Project 955 boat, Yuri Dolgorukiy, was accepted for service at the beginning of this year but will not be armed with missiles until 2014. The six-warhead Bulava has had a troubled testing history. The 20th flight test of the missile failed in September. Before that, the missile had experienced seven successful tests in a row, following a sequence of complete or partial failures blamed on quality control and other issues. There is also to be a gap in deliveries of the Borey SSBN. The first three Project 955 submarines, all of which have been launched, are being succeeded by a revised model, the 955A. The first of these, Knyaz Vladimir, was only laid down in July: Putin, attending the ceremony, said five 955As should be ready by 2020, bringing the Borey-class fleet to eight boats—a very ambitious schedule by post-Cold War standards.
- Four officially announced flight tests of a “new ICBM” between September 2011 and June 2013 seem to point to the development of a weapon that will supersede Topol and Yars in production, both developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT). It has been associated with the designation RS-26 and may be the missile referred to as Yars-M and Avangard, but recently it has most consistently been identified as Rubezh (Frontier). The Rubezh missile is believed to be mated to a new six-axle TEL, the Belarus-built MZKT-27291, which was unveiled this year. If it is used with this launcher, it must be smaller than the Topol/Yars family and easier to move. As in the case of some other recent ICBM tests, official announcements described it as a “maneuverable” system. According to Russian media, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, speaking after the test in June, called the new ICBM a “missile-defense killer—neither current nor future American missile defense systems will be able to prevent that missile from hitting a target dead on.” It is expected to be operational next year.
Mark Schneider, an analyst with the hawkish National Institute of Public Policy, suggests another potential issue with the new weapon: It could represent the start of a breakout from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed in 1987, which bans both the U.S. and Russia from deploying any ground-launched missiles, nuclear or conventional, with a 270-3,000-nm range (500-5,500 km). Schneider notes that the Russian military has yet to release any images of the Rubezh missile. “They have not even released a photo of the missile in flight, which is very usual. That would probably tell if it has two or three stages,” he explains. If it is a two-stage missile, he says, it would be an INF violation. Podvig, however, remains convinced that the missile is an ICBM.
Beyond that, notes leading Russian nuclear-arms analyst Pavel Podvig, an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, “it appears that Russia has successfully managed to confuse everyone with its new missile-development programs.” Since even the officially unveiled Russian systems have more names than one of Tolstoy’s aristocrats, the potential for confusion with developmental systems is huge.
Read the rest of the article, here.
H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders