Эта страница на русском языке

Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Nuclear Arms Reduction: The Process and Problems

Authors | Contents | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Conclusion | Responses (in Russian)

Welcome to visit Center's START Web-site (events, publications and discussions on START II Treaty related issues - this information section is updated weekly)

Chapter 3. The Russian Federation's Strategic Nuclear Forces: Present Status and Prospective Developments

At present, the Russian Federation's strategic nuclear forces triad consists of land-based (both in-silo and mobile rail- and truck-based) ICBMs, sea- and air-based strategic nuclear components. The alignment of the SNF components and the dynamics of their reduction are presented in Table 3.1.

3.1. Strategic Rocket Forces

According to official data, as of January 1st, 1997 the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces had 762 missile systems which were accounted as carrying 3,700 warheads. It should be pointed out that the actual number of warheads may differ from this "accountable" number since, for example, all heavy ICBMs are regarded as carrying 10 independently targeted re-entry vehicles each, although some of them carry single warheads.

Table 3.1. Soviet and U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces18
September 1, 1990
January 1, 1997
Delivery Systems
Nuclear Weapons
Delivery Systems
Nuclear Weapons

As of mid-1997 silo-based ICBM were deployed in the following six main areas on the territory of the Russian Federation: Kozelsk, Tatishchevo, Dombarovsky, Uzhur, Kartaly, and Aleysk. Mobile truck-based missiles were deployed in nine areas: Yoshkar-Ola, Teykovo, Novosibirsk, Kansk, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Nizhny Tagil, Vypolzovo, and Drovianaya. Bases near Kostroma, Krasnoyarsk and Perm each have 12 RS-22 [SS-24] mobile rail-based missiles.

In accordance with the START I Treaty, considerable reductions have already taken place.19 To comply with the Treaty, it is necessary to eliminate 32 more SS-18 missiles (to fit in the permitted level of 154 heavy ICBMs). The START I ceiling on the number of warheads on mobile missiles (1,100) is fulfilled automatically, since the currently deployed RS-12M "Topol" [SS-25] missiles carry 360 warheads, and another 360 warheads are deployed on the rail-based RS-22 [SS-24] missiles.

The rate of land-based missile reduction is determined by the expiration of the missiles' design service lives. The ability to maintain missiles is also important. Of the currently deployed missiles, only RS-18s [SS-19s] and SS-25s are built in Russia, while SS-18s and SS-24s main production bases are in Ukraine.

Considering the schedule of initial deployments and the current extended lifetime, one should expect that service life of 170 SS-19 missiles deployed in Russia between 1980 and 1984 expire somewhere between 2001 and 2005.20 Possibly, these missiles can be kept on service after 2005, since some of them have been replaced with new ones after 1984. The design service life of 32 SS-19 missiles, bought from Ukraine to replace older missiles, expires in 2009.21 The retirement of SS-19s may also be postponed due to further extension of their service life to 25 years.

For SS-18s deployed between 1979 and 1983, the design service life of 10 years was extended to 15 years. This extended lifetime expires by late 1998. Some of the withdrawn from Kazakhstan SS-18s can also be used to replace portions of the Russian forces. Some SS-18s have been replaced with later modifications. These missiles can be used till at least 2003-2005 even without the extension of their service life, and if the latter is extended they can be kept on service till 2010-2013.

The design service life of SS-24s and SS-25s is 10-15 years, and it expires in 2005-2010.

If Russia ratifies START II, all MIRVed ICBMs are due for elimination or deactivation by 2003.22 Some reductions could be implemented by downloading the number of warheads on 105 SS-19s from 6 to 1. All silos of heavy multiple-warhead ICBMs are due for elimination or retrofitting for single-warhead missiles (only 90 out of 154 may be retrofitted). Thus, if START II reductions are implemented, Russia will have to eliminate all remaining multiple-warhead ICBMs including 154 SS-18s permitted by START I. From the current arsenal Russia may keep 105 SS-19s and some 360 SS-25s.

An alternative to the ratification of START II is to keep the SS-18 missiles permitted by START I, as well as all SS-19s and SS-25s as long as it is technically possible. Such a solution will provide an opportunity to retain the Strategic Rocket Forces at the START I level. Nevertheless, beginning in 2005-2010 multiple-warhead ICBMs will have to be decommissioned due to expiration of their service life, and the number of deployed weapons in the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces will go even below the ceiling allowed by START II. The United States, in this case, will be able to keep a larger force in agreement with START I provisions.

3.2. Sea-Based Strategic Nuclear Forces

By the time of the signing of START I in 1991, the Soviet Union possessed 62 submarines armed with ballistic missiles. The sea-based strategic nuclear forces consisted of the second-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) (12 of the Navaga class [Yankee I], 1 of the Navaga M class [Yankee II], 18 of the Murena class [Delta I], 4 of the Murena M class [Delta II]), as well as the third-generation SSBNs (14 of the Kalmar class [Delta III], 6 of the Typhoon class [Typhoon], and 7 of the Delfin class [Delta IV]). Implementation of START I provisions should lead to the retirement of all second-generation SSBNs. It should be borne in mind that the service life of most of these SSBNs expires by the end of this century.23

According to START II, not more than 1,750 strategic warheads should remain in the navies of each country by 2003. START II does not provide for any additional reduction of the Russian sea-based strategic forces. At the time of the signing of START II in 1993, Russia was expected to have 23-25 active SSBNs (Delta IIIs, Delta IVs and Typhoons) even without building submarines. In reality, the pace of SSBN's retirement proved to be much faster.

As of January 1, 1997, the sea-based strategic nuclear forces had 26 SSBNs. Missile compartments or SLBM launching tubes have been taken out from 20 out of 36 retired SSBNs, and, in accordance with START I, these SSBNs are not counted. Ballistic missiles have been removed from the remaining 16 SSBNs. SLBM launching tubes are being removed from some of these submarines, the rest awaiting their turn.

The main reason for the accelerated submarine retirement is the inability to provide routine repairs and overhauls. In order to operate a ship for 25-30 years, a major overhaul should be performed every 7-8 years. Otherwise, a submarine's service life shrinks to 10-15 years.24 As of mid-1995, major overhauls are not overdue for only 20 SSBNs, and if the situation does not improve by 2000 there will be as few as 10 strategic submarines not needing a repair.25

3.3. Air-Based Strategic Nuclear Forces

Two types of heavy bombers are deployed in the air-based strategic nuclear forces: Tu-95s [Bears] and Tu-160s [Blackjacks]. The first Bear bombers entered into service as early as 1956. The last modification of the Tu-95MS [Bear H] was designed in the late 1970s, and serial production had taken place from 1981 to the early 1990s. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union most of new strategic bombers remained outside of Russia: in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has transferred to Russia all combat-capable heavy bombers. By mid-1997, Russian air-based strategic nuclear forces had 79 bombers (6 Blackjacks in Engels, 35 Tu-95MS16s [Bear H16s] and 28 Tu-95MS6s [Bear H6s] in Mozdok and Ukrainka, 10 Tu-95K22s [Bear Gs] in Engels and Ryazan). According to START I counting rules, these bombers are accounted as carrying 562 weapons, although they can actually carry 800.

Currently, the process of liquidation of the obsolete Tu-95K [Bear B] and Bear G modifications is under way. START I and START II provisions do not require additional reductions of the Russian air-based strategic forces. Taking into account that Bear H's service life is some 30 years, these aircraft can be expected to carry a substantial portion of the air-based arsenal early next century.

3.4. Command and Control System and Its Current Status

The SNF capability to implement a wide range of combat strategies to a very large extent depends on capabilities of the command and control system. Among the most important characteristics of the SNF command and control system is the high degree of automation and the highest degree of survivability against unauthorized access. The existing SNF command and control system with its network of stationary and mobile command centers is meant to guarantee the ability to deliver a nuclear strike of any type: preemptive, launch on warning, or retaliation after ride-out.

The recent changes in the relationship between the nuclear superpowers means that the command and control system does not have to constantly operate with the high degree of intensity that was required during the Cold War. The capabilities of the command and control system are quite adequate for maintaining strategic nuclear deterrence in the current situation.

Among the main elements that support operations of the command and control system and strongly affect a choice of a retaliatory strategy is the early warning system.

The Russian early warning system currently consists of two tiers-ground-based radars and satellites.

The Dnestr and Dnepr radars (at Skrunda, Mukachevo, Balkhash, Mishelevka, Olenegorsk, Nikolayev), known as Hen House-type radars, which were built in the 1960s-early 1970s, will reach end of their operational lives by the late 1990s. By that time the Daryal (Pechora-type) and Volga radars, built at existing bases (Skrunda, Mukachevo, Balkhash, Mishelevka) as well as on new positions (Gantsevichi, Mingechaur, Pechora, Yeniseysk), were supposed to replace the Hen House radars and provide detection of a missile attack practically on all azimuthal directions (see Figure 3.1 and 3.2). Construction at four of these sites has been completed or is near completion (Pechora, Mingechaur, Mishelevka, Balkhash).26

Figure 3.1. Location of Dnestr-M and Dnepr (Hen House) radars and their areas of coverage

Figure 3.2. Location of the missile warning Daryal (Pechora) and Volga radars, the ABM system's radars, and their areas of coverage

By the early 1990s, over two-thirds of construction work at the new generation radars had been finished.27 However, the collapse of the Soviet Union impeded the completion of the modernization of the early warning system, and left most radar sites outside of Russia.

Preservation of the early warning system's radars will require Russia's making serious efforts to reach agreements on the use of radars located in the former Soviet republics.28 In any event, coverage of the western azimuthal direction would require building at least one new radar. However, such construction is highly unlikely because of the lack of resources.

The first tier of the space-based early-warning system was commissioned in 1982. This system in full configuration includes nine satellites in highly elliptical, Molniya-type orbits. However, the system can work with fewer satellites. Although only seven satellites were working as of September 1997, the system is providing continuous coverage of U.S. ground-based ICBM deployment areas (see Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3. Areas constantly monitored by the early warning system's first-generation satellites

The complete space-based early warning system should include geosynchronous satellites along with the satellites on highly-elliptical orbits. However, in September 1997 only two geosynchronous satellites were in working condition.29 These satellites presumably provide coverage of the North Atlantic. Thus, satellites in highly elliptical orbits remain the principal component of the Russian satellite warning system. It means that the early warning system monitors ICBM deployment areas in the continental U.S. and SSBN patrol areas in the North Atlantic.

In its present state, the early warning system cannot reliably assure a launch on warning in a non-crisis situation, since the necessary warning time can be guaranteed only against launches of U.S. ground-based ICBMs. In crisis conditions, when the command and control system is on full alert, the ground-based early warning system would be able to detect the re-entry vehicles of attacking missiles 10-15 minutes before they reach their targets. This time is sufficient for delivering a launch on warning. It should be pointed out that the radars lost at the western flank can be compensated partially by geosynchronous satellites. Thus, the current state of the early warning system does not completely rule out the launch on warning option, but forces Russia to rely on only one out of two-radars and satellites-warning channel.

3.5. Current State of the Military-Industrial Complex and Prospects for the Strategic Nuclear Forces' Development

Principal directions for further development of Russia's strategic armaments system in the next 15-20 years are: In addition, measures will be taken to improve the command and control, the early warning and space monitoring systems. Apparently, economic aspects and the state of the military-industrial complex play a decisive role in the implementation of SNF development plans. Also very important is the implementation of the military reform.

By some estimates, over 2,000 industrial and scientific facilities in the Russian Federation employing some 3.8 million workers - including 1 million engaged in science - are involved in weapons development and production. In the country's industrial production these facilities' contribution is about 7-8 per cent. The State runs some 80 per cent of research organizations and some 40 per cent of weapons production.

At present, the military-industrial complex is in a very precarious economic situation. During the last 5-6 years state purchases of armaments have decreased at least seven-fold, and investments in the defense sector development fell not less than forty-fold. About 40 per cent of industrial and scientific equipment is physically worn out and does not meet contemporary requirements. This is why today Russia is able to produce not more than 20 per cent of the most important armaments by itself, without cooperation with other CIS countries.

It should be noted that as far as strategic weapons are concerned the situation is more favorable since over 85 per cent of the Soviet industrial enterprises involved are located in Russia. The existing Russian research and production infrastructure can build and maintain all necessary components for the SNF's reliable operation.

The Russian Federation's political leadership decided to limit (till the year 2000) the expenditures on the state power structures to 5 per cent of the GNP (for the Ministry of the Defense - to 3.5 per cent). It becomes apparent that the State's annual military budget for this period will not exceed 20-22 billion USD per year. In comparison, in 1998 the United States allocated some 248 billion USD for defense. Costs of maintaining SNF are going to grow in the foreseeable future, since the costs of military production and workforce in Russia will inevitably climb to the world level. Therefore, without actual positive changes in state economy and a significant growth of the GNP, one cannot count on successful development of the Russian SNF.

Strategic Rocket Forces

The industrial infrastructure for the Strategic Rocket Forces incorporates some 200 major enterprises. Its core is the cooperation for the production of the single-warhead Topol ICBM, and its head facility is the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant in Udmurtia.

In the mid-1980s, the Votkinsk plant produced at least 80 missiles a year. Today the plant produces Topol missiles and new Topol-M missiles. Not more than a quarter of its capacity is used and that has led to a significant increase in the cost of missiles. To keep minimally profitable the plant needs to manufacture 30 missiles a year, and the cooperation can be preserved with the production of 12-15 missiles a year.

Important for the implementation of the program for building Topol-M mobile land-based grouping is the fact that mobile launchers? are manufactured at the Belaz facility in Belarus. Without these mobile launchers? it is impossible to maintain the combat readiness of the existing Topol grouping, and even more so to create a Topol-M ICBM grouping.

Practically all of the currently available 360 Topol missiles will have their design service lives expired by 2010. By that time the Votkinsk plant is expected to have manufactured 400-500 Topol M missiles which means producing 30-40 missiles per year.

Production of missiles at the Votkinsk plant is financed at 55 per cent of the need, and is, thus, in permanent crisis. If this situation continues, by 2007 the Strategic Rocket Forces will receive not more than 300 missiles.

Sea-Based Strategic Nuclear Forces

Over 1,000 enterprises, including shipyards in Severodvinsk and Komsomolsk-na-Amure, used to belong to the industrial cooperation for the manufacture of SSBNs. Today, some 800 industrial facilities remain in the Russian Federation's naval shipbuilding complex, and the SSBN construction base is preserved in Severodvinsk alone.

In accordance with a decision of the nation's highest political leadership, the State Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding was established in Severodvinsk. Its head facility is the production association PO Severnoye Mashinostroitelnoye Predpriyatiye (Production Association Northern Machine Building Enterprise) for construction of nuclear-powered submarines. In the 1970s, this shipyard built up to 8 submarines annually. At present, general-purpose Severodvinsk-class nuclear-powered submarines and Yury Dolgoruky-class SSBNs are being built here.

The cooperation for manufacture of missiles and missile systems for SSBNs consists of some 300 facilities. Today, principal facilities for SLBM production are the Krasnoyarsk Machine Building Plant and the Zlatoust Machine Building Plant. In Krasnoyarsk, all types of naval liquid-propellant missiles are built, and in Zlatoust solid-propellant missiles are manufactured. In the mid-1980s, these two facilities produced up to 40 liquid-fuel and 30 solid-fuel missiles annually. The current plans for a new series of SSBNs demand the production of some 300 ballistic missiles before 2015.

Keeping strategic nuclear forces at sea presents a rather difficult problem for Russia. In 1991, Russia had 6 SSBN bases, 6 SLBM storage and loading bases, several weapon depots, the total of 22 strategic naval facilities. The reform of the entire national military complex and the shrinking military budget make it obvious that after the year 2000 Russia will not be able to maintain the huge infrastructure of sea-based SNF. Besides, the Kamchatka-based grouping will cease its existence by 2005 due to natural causes. One can assume that with the further decrease of strategic nuclear forces, Russia will have to give up the sea-based SNF in the Far East and will limit them to the Northern Fleet alone.

Air-Based Strategic Nuclear Forces

Serial production of Bear bombers was located in Samara and that of Blackjacks - in Kazan. At present, the production of these aircraft was terminated,30 and the plants are converting to civilian production.

The Russian formidable space and aeronautic industry as well as the network of first-rate design bureaus provides grounds for projections that, if necessary, the construction of both the Blackjack-type bombers and new generation military aircraft for strategic missions will be revived.

* * *

Lately, there have been publications in which American experts, on the basis of analyses of the SNF's present state, draw conclusions about the declining reliability and even ruin of the Russian nuclear weapons command and control system. In their opinion, the situation has worsened so much that the Russian SNF are on the verge of losing control, and the possibility of unauthorized launch has become real.31 They illustrate the loss of control over SNF with the known facts of electricity cut-offs at the Strategic Rocket Forces' and Navy's command centers, and the inadequate response of the SNF command and control system to the January 1995 launch of the Norwegian meteorological missile.32

We would like to note that although the technical state of material resources and the personnel's morale are on the decline, nonetheless, the command and control system is not so "out of control" as it appears to foreign experts. The procedure for the use of nuclear weapons prescribes precise and well-coordinated actions of dozens of persons at particular posts, and a rather compact time for performing these operations. The nuclear weapons command and control system presupposes numerous checks and technical measures for "negative control" which are insuperable for a missile that "went out of control."

Because of their particular significance, the issues of control and readiness of the SNF are under constant and close attention of the nation's leadership. Exercise launches of ground-based ICBMs, SLBMs and ALCMs, conducted in 1995-1997 confirmed the reliability of the command and control system, a high level of personnel's preparedness and the reliability of hardware.

An objective evaluation of the state of the Russian SNF is important for developing realistic approaches to further strategic weapons reductions. Possibly, by attracting attention to the current status of the Russian SNF, American experts are trying to achieve the de-alerting of the U.S. and their allies' strategic nuclear forces and a reconsidering of the basic provisions of their policies with the aim of building trust and lowering the risk of incidents involving nuclear weapons. However, an inadequate evaluation of the actual state of the Russian SNF may also create an illusion of their "becoming extinct" and promote the affirmation and spread of the already existing opinion that there is no need to continue negotiations with Russia on further reductions of nuclear arsenals. It may result not only in a breakdown of the negotiation process but in a long-term "freezing" of the Russian and U.S. arsenals.

18) Official notification with updated data from the START Memorandum of Understanding.

19) According to START I provisions, the total number of strategic delivery systems (sea- and land-based ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers) must be reduced to 1,600, and the total number of weapons to 6,000. The total number of weapons deployed at sea- and on land-based ballistic missiles should not exceed 4,900. START I provides for special limitations on land-based strategic forces: the number of warheads on mobile land-based missiles should not exceed 1,100, and on heavy ICBMs it should not exceed 1,540. The last provision necessitates a two-fold reduction of heavy ICBMs: from 308 to 154. The Treaty also limits the aggregate throw-weight of sea- and land-based ballistic missiles to 54% of the September 1, 1990 level, bans development of new classes of heavy ICBMs and rapid reloading of ICBM launchers.
The START I reductions of ground-based strategic forces are carried out mainly by means of decommissioning of the older ICBMs as well as by eliminating the Strategic Rocket Forces' bases outside of Russia.

20) Russia's Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Edited by Pavel Podvig (Moscow: IzdAT, 1998). In print.

21) V. Sergeyev, "Russia Buys Strategic Bombers and Missiles from Ukraine," Segodnia, 21 December 1995.

22) According to a U.S.-Russian agreement reached on September 26, 1997, deactivation will be conducted by means of detaching nuclear warheads or other jointly agreed measures.

23) Service lives of the second-generation SSBNs expire in 1998-1999; Aleksey Ovcharenko, "Prospects for Russian Sea-Based Strategic Nuclear Forces," Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 6 September 1994.

24) In the last several years quite a few surface ships and submarines younger than 15 years have been retired because of the inability to perform overhauls. Aircraft carriers, in particular, had shared this fate.

25) B.Tiurin, "Crumbling Ship-Building, Death of the Fleet," Morskoy Sbornik, No. 7, 1995, pp. 8-15.

26) Yu.Votintsev, "Unknown Troops of the Vanished Superpower," Voyenno-Istorichesky Zhurnal [Military Historical Journal], No. 9-11, 1993.

27) Construction was finished in Mukachevo and Skrunda, but the radars were not taken into operation. The Yeniseysk radar (near Krasnoyarsk) was built in violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. In 1989, under U.S. pressure, the radar was dismantled.

28) The building of the Daryal-UM radar in Skrunda, Latvia was demolished on 4 May 1995. The Dnestr-M radar, which continues to operate in Skrunda according to a Russian-Latvian agreement, will stop operating in 1998, after which it should be dismantled within a year and a half. Unresolved is the issue of the use by Russia of radar sites in Nikolayev and Mukachevo, in Ukraine. It's most likely that construction of the Daryal-UM radar in Mukachevo, frozen in 1991, would not continue. The fate of a missile warning system's site in Azerbaijan also remains undecided. Despite the continuing operation of this site in the Russian missile warning system, the Azerbaijani government objects to granting it the status of Russian military base. The lack of resources and ambiguous legal status do not permit to complete installation works and start operating a Daryal-U radar at the Balkhash station in Kazakhstan. Construction of a Volga radar in Belarus (Gantsevichi) has not been finished although its operation was supposed to have begun some 10 years ago. Due to political problems and aging, western-flank radars in Skrunda, Nikolayev and Mukachevo will be lost. Possibly, the Gantsevichi radar will be completed.

29) M.Tarasenko, "The Kosmos-2345 Satellite Launched," Novosti Kosmonavtiki [News of Space and Aeronautics], No. 17, 1997.

30) Russian Television (RTR) reported in its program Prisiaga [The Oath] on 17 August 1997 that at present the Kazan facility is completing the manufacturing of several Blackjacks which was frozen in 1992 due to lack of financing.

31) Bruce Blair, Harold Feiveson, and Frank von Hippel, "Taking Nuclear Weapons off Hair-Trigger Alert," Scientific American, November, 1997; Sam Nunn and Bruce Blair, "From Nuclear Deterrence to Mutual Safety. As Russia's Arsenal Crumbles, It's Time to Act," Washington Post, 22 June 1997.

32) "World on Brink of War in 1997," Associated Press, 5 July 1997.

© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1998.