The Russian Strategic Forces: Uncertain Future

by Paul Podvig,
Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

Presentation at the conference "The Future of Russian-US Strategic Arms Reductions: START III and Beyond" (The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, MA, February 2-6, 1998)

This paper published in Breakthroughs (Spring 1998, vol. VII, No 1, pp. 11-21), Security Studies Program of  M.I.T.


The future of the nuclear arms reduction process will to a large extent depend on whether Russia and the United States can resolve the current situation with regard to the ratification of the START II Treaty. The treaty, which was signed five years ago and received U.S. Senate approval in January 1996, is still waiting to be ratified by the Russian Duma. Although the Russian government has repeatedly given the treaty its unqualified support, it is yet to come up with arguments that could convince the Duma that ratification of START II is indeed in Russia's best interests.

Admittedly, the opposition to ratification in the Duma is largely politically motivated and has very little to do with the real shortcomings of the agreement. At the same time, the opposition reflects serious problems that Russia will face in maintaining its strategic forces in the next decade. One of the problems is that Russia will find it almost impossible to keep its forces at a level comparable to those of the United States. In this respect the START II Treaty is much more difficult for Russia to accept than START I, which also assumes that certain inequalities will exist. Since START II requires elimination of all land-based missiles with multiple warheads, the treaty gives Russia much less flexibility in restructuring its nuclear forces and eliminates the weapons that have been considered the backbone of the Russian strategic arsenal.

Another factor that would substantially restrict the Russian ability to carry out a strategic modernization program of the type required to sustain its nuclear forces at the level of 3,000-3,500 warheads permitted by the START II Treaty is the difficult economic and political situation in Russia. The lack of resources required to maintain the Russian arsenal at the START I level has become one of the most widely used arguments of the advocates of the START II Treaty. However, the analysis of the current state of the Russian strategic forces outlined below shows that sustaining the forces at a level of 4,000 warheads might not require any substantial efforts and therefore could be considered as a realistic alternative to START II ratification. Indeed, the Russian military so far has not taken any steps beyond those required by the START I Treaty and therefore the scenario in which the START II Treaty is not ratified could not be ruled out.

In this overview of Russian strategic systems we assume that Russia will be able to continue the development and production programs which are currently under way. The scale of these efforts in recent years has been quite moderate, so there is no reason to believe that they would slow down even further. In addition, Russia would need to continue its efforts aimed at extending the operational lives of its deployed strategic systems. The life extension programs in many cases do not require substantial resources and therefore these programs would not put any additional burden on the military budget. In many respects, the life extension programs are among the most cost-effective options available to Russia.

January 2008 was chosen as a benchmark for our estimates for two reasons. First, this is the time by which Russia and the United States must complete the reductions of their strategic forces if they ratify the START II Treaty and the protocol which extends the treaty implementation time. Second, if Russia and the United States conclude a START III Treaty, January 2008 would be the timeline for this agreement as well. It should be noted that as far as the operational lives of the systems considered here are concerned, the year 2008 is not exceptional. As is shown below, most of these systems could stay in service for at least several years beyond 2008, so Russia will be able to avoid a rapid disintegration of its strategic forces.

Land-based missiles

Russia had completed the elimination of it older types of land-based missiles by the beginning of 1996. By that time all SS-11, SS-13, and SS-17 ICBMs had been dismantled. The Russian ICBM force currently consists of SS-18 heavy missiles, SS-19 missiles, silo-based and railroad-mobile SS-24s, and road-mobile SS-25s. In addition, in December 1997 the Strategic Rocket Forces deployed the first operational SS-27 missile.

SS-18 (R-36MUTTH, R-36M2).The SS-18 missile is the last of the family of heavy missiles developed at the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau, located in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. There are three version of the missile known as the SS-18, which correspond to design improvements implemented in the course of the missile's life. The Russian designations for the different versions are R-36`M, R-36MUTTH, and R-36M2.

The development of the R-36M missile, the first in the SS-18 family, began in the late 1960s and the missile was operationally deployed in December 1974. The R-36M, which could carry eight warheads, was the first operational missile with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) to be deployed by the Soviet Union. However, a number of R-36M missiles were also deployed in a single-warhead version. Shortly after the R-36M missile entered service, the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau began development of the R-36MUTTH ICBM, which carried a different warhead bus with ten independently targeted reentry vehicles. Deployment of this version of the SS-18 missile began in September 1979.

The first R-36MUTTH missiles replaced old SS-9 heavy missiles which by the end of 1970s were approaching the end of their operational lives. After this replacement was completed, R-36MUTTH missiles began replacing their predecessors, the R-36Ms. By the end of 1983, all 308 heavy missiles that the Soviet Union was allowed under the SALT I and SALT II agreements were R-36MUTTHs.

The latest version of the SS-18 missile, the R-36M2, was developed to replace the R-36MUTTH missiles as they reach the end of their operational lives. The new version has a redesigned second stage and a bus that accommodates ten warheads, arranged in two layers. The R-36M2 missile is more accurate than its predecessors and has an operational life of 15 years.

The first regiment of R-36M2 missiles was deployed in July 1988, and shortly after that, in August 1988, the missile was commissioned by the Strategic Rocket Forces. Two years later, in August 1990, a single-warhead version of the missile was deployed. Another version of the missile, which carried a new warhead and also had ten reentry vehicles, entered service in 1991.

There is no reliable estimate of the total number of R-36M2 missiles produced. By the end of 1991 the Soviet Union reportedly had deployed as many as 90 R-36M2 missiles, most of which were deployed in Kazakhstan. After the breakup of the Soviet Union these missiles were redeployed in Russia, reportedly at the Dombarovski missile base. Since this base has 52 missile silos, Russia currently has no less than 52 deployed R-36M2 missiles. Additional R36-M2 missiles, most of which were withdrawn from Kazakhstan, could later be used to replace (or have already replaced) the aging R-36MUTTHs at other Russian heavy missile bases.

Since the initial operational life of R-36M2 missiles is 15 years, Russia could keep them in its arsenal until at least 2004-2006. However, as was the case with almost all previously deployed ICBMs, the operational life of the missiles could be extended to 20 years. This would allow Russia to keep R-36M2 missiles in service until 2009-2011.

Since the number of R-36M2 missiles seems to be lower than the limit set by the START I Treaty, which allows Russia to have 154 heavy SS-18 ICBMs, Russia could deploy older R-36MUTTHs along with the R-36M2 missiles. The currently deployed R-36MUTTH missiles would have to be withdrawn in 2000-2005 even if their operational lives were extended to 20 years. However, Russia has a certain number of "dry" R-36MUTTH missiles which have never been filled with fuel and which, if deployed, could stay in service until at least 2010-2015.

Data exchanged under START I shows that in 1990 the Soviet Union had 81 non-deployed SS-18 missiles. By the beginning of 1997 this number had dropped to 71. Making a conservative estimate that these missiles include about 40 R-36M2s withdrawn from Kazakhstan, then Russia would have no more than 30 "dry" R-36MUTTH missiles available for deployment. It seems very likely, however, that all available R-36M2 missiles have been deployed in silos and therefore almost all of the 71 non-deployed missiles are R-36MUTTHs. Since a certain number of missiles must be kept in operational reserve, Russia could deploy about 50 of these 71 missiles.

The total number of SS-18 missiles that Russia could deploy after the START I Treaty deadline would most likely be lower than the 154 allowed by the treaty. If we assume that Russia currently has about 90 R-36M2 missiles and will be able to deploy up to 50 "dry" R-36MUTTHs. In this case the number of deployed SS-18s would be about 128 missiles, deployed in silos at Dombarovski, Kartaly, and Aleisk. Fifty two SS-18 silos at the Uzhur base would either be eliminated or converted to house SS-27 missiles. If the total number of relatively new SS-18 missiles is less than 128, then Russia will have to convert to SS-27s the Aleisk base as well. This will leave 98 SS-18 ICBMs that could stay in service until at least 2010. These missiles would be deployed at bases at Dombarovski and Kartaly. The majority of these would be R-36M2s, although some R-36MUTTHs would be deployed as well.

The extension of the service life of the SS-18 missile to 20 years would not be inconsistent with the experience that the Strategic Rocket Forces have had so far with this and other liquid-propellant ICBMs. For example, on April 17, 1997 the Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful test launch of a R-36MUTTH missile that had been in service for more than 20 years. A life extension program for the R-36M2 may face difficulties, since the missile was developed by the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau and produced at the Yuzhmash Machine-Building Plant, both of which are located in Ukraine. However, a moderate extension of the operational life from 15 to 20 years may not involve any hardware replacements or modifications and could be carried out without direct participation of the Ukrainian designers. In addition, major components of the missile guidance system are manufactured in Moscow, which would makes replacing the guidance sets easier, if this is necessary.

The service life of the SS-18 missiles will be much shorter if Russia ratifies the START II Treaty. This treaty requires the elimination of all multiple-warhead land-based ICBMs and pays special attention to the elimination of the heavy SS-18 missiles, providing special procedures for their liquidation. However, the START II Treaty allows conversion of multiple-warhead ICBM silos, unlike START I, which requires their elimination. START II would allow Russia to keep 90 SS-18 silos by converting them into silos for a single-warhead ICBM. The treaty provides conversion procedures which include filling part of the silo with concrete and installing a metal ring over the silo opening.

SS-19 (UR-100N, UR-100NU).The SS-19 missile is one of the oldest missiles in the current Russian strategic arsenal. The first version of the missile, designated UR-100N, began deployment in April 1975 and was officially commissioned in December 1975. The development of the missile, which was intended to replace the single-warhead SS-11 (UR-100), was carried out at the TsKBM Design Bureau (the Chelomey Design Bureau), located in Reutov near Moscow. The missiles were produced at the Khrunichev Machine-Building Plant in Moscow.

The SS-19 missile, which carries six independently targeted warheads, was deployed in hardened silos built at the locations of SS-11 silos. Shortly after the missile entered service, the TsKBM Design Bureau began development of a follow-on missile, which was designated the UR-100NU. This missile, which also carries six warheads, began deployment in November 1979 and soon after that replaced almost all of the original UR-100N missiles.

Deployment of UR-100NU missiles was completed in 1984. At that time the number of deployed SS-19 missiles reached its peak of 360. Starting in 1988, the Soviet Union began replacing the SS-19s with the silo version of the solid-propellant SS-24 missile. Since the SS-19s were from the very beginning deployed in hardened silos, this replacement did not require any substantial silo modifications.

The UR-100NU missiles, which were deployed in the early 1980s, reached the end of their initial operational lives in 1992-1995. However, the Strategic Rocket Forces initiated a life-extension program, which allowed it to keep these missiles in the active arsenal. As part of this program, in 1995-1996 the Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a series of test launches of SS-19 missiles that had been deployed in silos for more than 20 years (these apparently were UR-100N missiles deployed in 1975). The results of these test launches allowed Russia to extend the operational life of the SS-19 to 21 years. Current Russian military plans call for extending the service life of the missiles even further, to 25 years.

If the operational life of the SS-19 missiles is extended to 25 years, Russia will have to decommission these missiles in 2007-2010. Although some of the SS-19s could expire earlier, Russia has a surplus of "dry" SS-19 missiles, which includes 39 SS-19 missiles bought from Ukraine. Since these could replace aging missiles, Russia could avoid rapid disintegration of its SS-19 force after 2007.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia was left with 170 of the 300 Soviet SS-19 silos. Some of these will be refurbished to accommodate the silo-based version of the new SS-27 missile, currently being developed in Russia. The silo conversion program began in 1995 at the Tatishevo missile base. By April 1997 SS-19 missiles were removed from ten silos at that base. Two silos were used to accommodate the first SS-27 missiles, deployed in December 1997. Since the development of the mobile version of the SS-27 missile has not been completed yet, to proceed with the deployment of the SS-27 Russia will have to eliminate some of the currently deployed SS-19s. If the number of eliminated SS-19 missiles matches the projected rate of SS-27 production, by the end of 2001 Russia will have 130 SS-19 missiles deployed.

If Russia ratified the START II Treaty, it could keep 105 SS-19 missiles provided they carry only a single warhead. The conversion procedure might prove expensive, since in order to deploy a single-warhead version of the SS-19 Russia would have to develop and test a new bus for the missile. The only alternative to such a conversion would be the early decommissioning of SS-19 missiles, so that their silos could be used for deployment of SS-27 missiles. According to the START II Treaty provisions, the SS-19 silos could be used for SS-27 missiles without any restrictions.

SS-24 (RT-23, RT-23UTTH).The SS-24 was developed as a universal solid-propellant missile that could be deployed either in silos or as a part of a railroad-mobile missile system. The flight tests of the railroad-based RT-23 system were completed in 1985, but the missile was not accepted for service. Instead, the designers were assigned with the job of developing an improved version of the system, which was designated the RT-23UTTH. Deployment of both the silo- and railroad-based versions of the RT-23UTTH missiles began in 1987-1988. In 1989 both versions were officially accepted for service. The first railroad-mobile version, the RT-23 missile, although not commissioned, had been operationally deployed in 1987.

The SS-24 system was developed at the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau and produced at the Pavlograd Mechanical Plant. The missile carries ten warheads and was developed to replace the older SS-17 and SS-19 missiles. The initial plan probably was to replace the SS-17 missiles with the mobile version of the SS-24, because the SS-17 silos were relatively soft compared to those of the SS-19. SS-19 silos were used for deployment of the silo-based version of the SS-24.

By 1992 the Soviet Union had deployed 92 SS-24s, 36 of which were railroad-mobile RT-23 and RT-23UTTH systems, and 56 were silo-based RT-23UTTH missiles. Since 46 of the SS-24 silos were located on Ukrainian territory, Russia now has only 10 SS-24 silos. However, all 36 railroad-mobile SS-24 systems were based in Russian territory. In October 1991, the Soviet Union announced that the mobile SS-24 systems will be stationed in garrisons. This practice was upheld by the Russian leadership and reflects concerns about safety of the missile-carrying trains during movements.

The operational life of the SS-24 missiles was initially set at 10 years. A life-extension program could probably extend this period to 15 years, but it is highly unlikely that Russia will initiate such a program. Since the production and development base for missile is located in Ukraine, production of SS-24 missiles could not be resumed. Moreover, the railroad-based SS-24 missiles are still considered unsafe to operate on the national railroad network. Building a dedicated set of railroads is too expensive to be a realistic option. At the same time, the number of silo-based SS-24s in the Russian arsenal is too small to justify any substantial life-extension effort. As a result, it seems likely that the SS-24 will be the first system to be eliminated under the START I reductions.

SS-25 (RT-2PM Topol).The SS-25 missile was until very recently the only land-based missile in serial production. This single-warhead solid-propellant missile, developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT, the Nadiradze Design Bureau), was the first road-mobile intercontinental missile that was accepted for service. The SS-25 missile is produced at the Votkinsk Machine-Building Plant in Russia. Deployment of the SS-25 began in July 1985, but it was only in December 1988 that the system began deployment in its current configuration, which includes a mobile regiment command center and a modern command and control system.

In 1990 Russia had 288 deployed SS-25 missiles in its arsenal. By April 1997 this number reached 360. Production of the SS-25 most likely stopped in 1996-1997 as funds and production capacity were directed into production of the new SS-27 missile, which is produced at the same plant in Votkinsk. Although it is possible that there were some SS-25 missiles produced in recent years, which could be deployed in addition to the currently deployed 360 missiles, we assume that the total number of operational SS-25 missiles will stay at the current level.

It is likely that Russia will undertake a life extension program, which would extend the operational life of the SS-25 missiles to at least 15 years. In this case Russia will start decommissioning SS-25 missiles in 2000, and their number will decrease to 288 by the end of 2001, and to 216 at the beginning of 2003. Without further extension of the missile's operational life, by January 2008 Russia would have only 45 operational SS-25 missiles. All of these missiles would reach the end of their operational lives by 2010.

SS-27 (RT-2PM2 Topol-M). Development of the SS-27 missile began in the late 1980s or early 1990s. This single-warhead solid-propellant missile was developed in two versions-a silo-based one and as part of a road-mobile missile system. Initially the development was a joint effort of the Yuzhnoe Design Bureau, responsible for the silo-based version, and the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, which was developing the missile for the road-mobile system. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the development of both versions was transferred to Moscow. The production base of the new missile is the Votkinsk Machine-Building Plant, which has been producing SS-25 missiles.

Although Russia declared the SS-27 missile to be a modification of the SS-25, the new missile is quite different from its predecessor. It has a bigger first stage and a larger throw weight. The silo-based version of the missile will be deployed in SS-19 and SS-24 silos. The missile will also be deployed as a part of a road-mobile system, similar to that of the SS-25.

Deployment of the SS-27 missile began in December 1997 at the Tatishevo missile base. The first two missiles, one of which will be used for combat training, were deployed in converted SS-19 silos. The road-mobile version of the missile is still undergoing tests and it is not clear when this version of the missile could enter service.

The scale of deployment of the silo-based version of the SS-27 will depend on the availability of silos that could accommodate the missile. Since the missile is being deployed at the expense of the SS-19, the deployment of the silo-based version of the SS-27 would probably stop after the mobile version becomes available. In our analysis, we assume that 40 of the currently available SS-19 silos will eventually be converted for SS-27 deployment. Ten additional SS-27 missiles could be deployed in SS-24 silos, bringing the total number of silo-based SS-27s to 50.

The START II Treaty allows Russia to convert 90 of its SS-18 silos for the deployment of a single-warhead missile. However, the conversion of SS-18 silos would involve some additional efforts, so Russia will probably prefer to avoid converting these silos and concentrate on production of the mobile version of the SS-27.

Assuming that the production rate of SS-27 missiles could be sustained at the level of 10 missiles a year, by the end of 2001 Russia will have 40 silo-based SS-27 missiles. By that time Russia will probably be able to begin production of the mobile version of the missile. With the same aggregate production rate of 10 SS-27 missiles a year, the total number of these missiles could reach 50 by January 2003, and 110 by January 2008.

Strategic submarines

By the beginning of 1997 the Russian Navy had almost completed deactivation of its older types of strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Of the 62 strategic submarines which were deployed in 1990, the Russian Navy currently has only 28. Among the dismantled types are almost all Yankee I and Delta II submarines, the Yankee II submarine, and some of the Delta I and Delta III submarines. The remaining Yankee I, Delta I and Delta II submarines are being decommissioned and will soon be taken out of service. As a result, Russia now has 13 Delta III submarines, 6 submarines of the Typhoon type and 7 Delta IVs. However, not all of these ships are in active service. Two Delta III and two Typhoon submarines have been deactivated and most likely will not be returned to service. However, in 1996 Russia began construction of a strategic submarine "Yuri Dolgorukii" of a new type known as the "Borey."

The future of the Russian strategic fleet will depend to large extent on the resources that Russia can devote to the maintenance of the existing submarine fleet and to the development and production of new submarines and sea-based missiles.

Delta III (Project 667BDR). The Delta III submarines carry the D-9R missile system, which includes 16 SS-N-18 (R-29R) missiles, carrying 3 warheads each.

The Delta III submarines were built and deployed in 1976-1981. Since the operational life of a submarine usually ranges from 25 to 30 years, these ships were to stay in the Navy until 2001-2006. The operational life of SLBMs is usually shorter, so the missiles have to be replaced during a mid-life overhaul. Problems with financing the maintenance of the submarines and production of R-29R missiles could result in all the Delta III submarines being withdrawn from service by 2002. The first three Delta III submarines have already been deactivated.

Since the Delta IIIs are the only modern missile submarines deployed with the Pacific Fleet, this means that after their decommissioning all Russian strategic submarines will be concentrated in the Northern Fleet. Although it would be possible to transfer some of the newer missile submarines to the Pacific, the Navy will probably decide to minimize its operational expenses by having only the one strategic submarine base in the Northern Fleet.

Delta IV (Project 667BDRM). The submarines of the Delta IV type are the last in the series of SSBNs with liquid-fuel missiles built in the Soviet Union. The D-9RM missile system, deployed on Delta IV submarines, includes 16 SS-N-23 (R-29RM) missiles, which carry 4 warheads each.

The Delta IV submarines, which were built during the 1985-1990 period, could theoretically remain in service until 2010-2015. However, lack of resources might force the Navy to decommission some of the Delta IV submarines early and direct the resources into maintenance of the remaining submarines and dismantlement of the old ones. In our analysis we assume that by 2008 Russia will decommission two Delta IV submarines which entered service in 1985-1986. This will leave 5 Delta IV ships, all of which are part of the Northern Fleet.

The R-29RM missile, deployed on the Delta IV submarines, as well as the R-29R of the Delta III, was developed at KB Mashinostroeniya (the Makeev Design Bureau) and is produced at the Krasnoyarsk Machine-Building Plant. Since the operational life of the missiles is shorter than that of the submarines, the plant will have to continue production of the missiles. The rate of production required to refurbish five Delta IV submarines is about 30 missiles a year, which is consistent with the current capability of the Krasnoyarsk Plant.

Typhoon (Project 941). The Typhoon-type SSBNs are widely known as the biggest submarines ever built. A large submarine was required to accommodate the D-19 missile system, which includes 20 large solid-propellant SS-N-20 (R-39) missiles. Each missile carries 10 warheads.

Construction of the first Typhoon submarine was completed at the Severodvinsk shipyard in 1980. The sixth and the last submarine of the Typhoon type entered service in 1989. The SS-N-20 missiles were developed by the KB Mashinostroyeniya Design Bureau (KBM, the Makeev Design Bureau), located in Miass, Russia. Production of the missile was shared between the Pavlograd Machine-Building Plant in Ukraine, which produced the first stage of the missile, and the Zlatoust Machine-Building Plant, located in Russia.

Since the operational life of the SS-N-20 missiles was 10 years, the KBM began development of a follow-on missile, which was to be deployed on Typhoon submarines during their scheduled refurbishments. This missile, reportedly designated the R-39UTTH, has somewhat greater dimensions and substantially greater throwweight. However, the external dimensions of the R-39UTTH launch canister are identical to that of the R-39 missile.

The development of the R-39UTTH missile was to be completed by the mid-1990s. However, work on the missile fell behind schedule. Development slowed down substantially after the breakup of the Soviet Union, partly because the Pavlograd Plant in Ukraine could no longer produce the first stage of a missile and so its production had to be transferred to Russia. The development of the missile has continued and as of the beginning of 1998 there have been several flight tests of the R-39UTTH missile, none of which were successful.

Delays with the development of the SS-N-20 follow-on forced the Navy to undertake a rather unusual step. In March and December of 1997 the Navy destroyed the missiles that were carried on two Typhoon submarines, presumably those built in 1980-1983. Since Russia had neither old R-39 nor new R-39UTTH missiles to deploy on these two Typhoons, these submarines have been deactivated. However, they have not been formally decommissioned and might return to the fleet after development of the R-39UTTH is completed.

The requirements of the START I Treaty may force Russia to decommission and eliminate the two deactivated Typhoon submarines. According to the treaty provisions, the number of warheads on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles can not exceed 4,900. An analysis of the options available to Russia shows that this provision in effect requires Russia to reduce the number of its SLBM warheads down to less than 1,800. Otherwise Russia will have to eliminate ICBM silos which are required for SS-27 deployment. In order to keep the number of SLBM warheads within this 1,800 limit, Russia will either have to eliminate two Typhoon submarines or reduce the number of warheads on the SS-N-20 missile from ten to eight.

The option of "downloading" the SS-N-20 missile had been considered by the Soviet Union during the START I negotiations and may still be considered by the Russian Navy. At the same time, it is quite likely that the follow-on R-39UTTH missile was intended to be deployed with eight warheads. Although the conversion of the currently deployed R-39 missile to an eight-warhead version is possible, it is not clear that the Navy would prefer this option to dismantling the two already deactivated Typhoons. In our analysis we assume that the Navy will dismantle the two currently deactivated Typhoon submarines which in any event will reach the end of their operational life by 2005-2007. In addition, we assume that by the year 2007 the Navy will decommission one more Typhoon submarine, which by that time will be 23 years old. This would leave three Typhoons armed with 60 missiles, which can carry 600 warheads.

In considering the future of the Typhoons, we also should not rule out the possibility that the Typhoon program will be terminated altogether in favor of new strategic submarines of the "Yuri Dolgorukii" type. Such a decision could free the resources required for the construction of these new submarines and the development of a smaller missile that could be deployed on these submarines.

"Yuri Dolgorukii" (Project 955). In October 1996 the Severodvinsk shipyard started construction of a missile submarine of a new type. This ship, known as the "Yuri Dolgorukii," will be the first in a series of the Project 955 strategic submarines equipped with a new solid-propellant missile. Current plans call for the construction of the first ship to be completed in 2002. After that the Navy plans to commission one new submarine annually. This plan is probably not realistic and it would be safer to assume that the first submarine will not enter service before 2004. The rate of production thereafter probably will not exceed one submarine every two years.

Work on the new solid-propellant missile which is to be deployed on the new submarines is still in the R&D phase. The missile is being developed at the KB Mashinostroeniya (the Makeev Design Bureau), which is currently working on the R-39UTTH missile, which would be deployed on Typhoons. Since the two missile development programs would be competing for limited resources, the R-39UTTH program might eventually be terminated. As mentioned earlier, such a decision would also lead to an early decommissioning of the Typhoon submarine fleet. In this case, we might expect that the rate of production of the new-type submarines could be somewhat higher than one every two years and that by the end of 2007 Russia might have three submarines of the Project 955 type.

The exact number of SLBMs that the new submarine would carry is not known. It has been reported that the submarine will carry 12 or 16 missiles similar to or smaller than the R-39UTTH. For the purposes of our analysis we take the lower number and assume that the "Yuri Dolgorukii" will have 12 missiles with four warheads each.

Strategic Bombers

The long-range aviation forces have always been regarded as the least developed and the most neglected part of the Soviet strategic triad. This attitude continued on to Russia and currently the Russian strategic bombers are usually thought of as comprising a token force which does not have a strategic role of its own. Nevertheless, Russia continues to maintain its heavy bomber fleet and has no immediate plans to abolish the air-based component of its strategic forces.

By the beginning of 1997 Russia had eliminated almost all of the strategic-capable bombers of the older Tu-95 Bear types. Currently, strategic aviation consists of 63 Tu-95MS Bear H bombers and six Tu-160 Blackjack aircraft. Both aircraft carry AS-15 (Kh-55) long-range air-launched cruise missiles.

Tu-95MS Bear H. The Tu-95MS bomber is a relatively new modification of the old Tu-95 turboprop aircraft. The Tu-95MS bomber was developed in the late 1970s as a carrier of long-range cruise missiles. The Tu-95MS design was based on that of the Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft, which was, in turn, a substantially modified Tu-95 bomber. Production of the Tu-95MS aircraft began in 1981, first in Taganrog and then in Kuibyshev. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, 25 Tu-95MS aircraft were left in Ukrainian territory.

There are two modifications of the bomber: the Tu-95MS6, carrying 6 AS-15 ALCMs in the bomb bay, and the Tu-95MS16, which can carry an additional 10 missiles on pylons under the wings. Of the 63 Tu-95MS bombers currently in service, 28 are of the Tu-95MS6 type and the remaining 35 are Tu-95MS16.

Russia currently has no plans for continuing or resuming Tu-95MS production. The production lines at the Kuibyshev Aviation Plant, which produced the aircraft, were closed in 1995. Since all the Tu-95MS aircraft were built in the late 1980s they could probably stay in service until at least 2010. However, to maintain the bomber force Russia will have to complete the development of a new long-range cruise missile which will replace the currently deployed AS-15.

Tu-160 Blackjack. The Tu-160 strategic bomber is a modern supersonic jet aircraft which entered service with the Soviet strategic aviation forces in 1987. The bomber can carry 12 AS-15 long-range cruise missiles in its bomb bays.

In 1991, during the breakup of the Soviet Union, almost all of the Soviet Tu-160 bombers were located on Ukrainian territory. As a result, Russia currently has only six operational Tu-160 aircraft, which were built in 1991-1992 and had not been transferred to Ukraine. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia unsuccessfully tried to arrange for the return of some or all of the 19 Tu-160 bombers which had been left in Ukrainian territory. In 1997 the Russian government announced that it has no interest in purchasing these aircraft.

Production of the Tu-160 was ended in 1992 and its resumption is highly unlikely. The currently deployed aircraft could stay in service until at least 2010. The bombers will carry the same cruise missile that is currently being developed for the Tu-95MS bombers.

The case for the START III

An analysis of various available options shows that despite its extremely difficult political and economic conditions Russia has a realistic technical capability to keep the number of deployed strategic weapons at the level of 3,500-4,000 warheads by the year 2008. However, almost half of these warheads would be deployed on silo-based MIRVed missiles which would have to be eliminated if Russia ratified the START II Treaty, which bans MIRVed land-based missiles. Elimination of these MIRVed ICBMs would bring the number of Russian strategic warheads that could be deployed in 2008 down to about 2,100.

Neither of these two options seems attractive to Russia. Although in the absence of the START II Treaty Russia could keep its MIRVed land-based missiles, the total number of deployed warheads would be significantly lower than the limit of 6,000 set forth in the START I Treaty. Moreover, within the framework of the START I Treaty, the United States could preserve its most potent counterforce weapons which would make the Russian silo-based ICBM force extremely vulnerable.

The number of strategic weapons that Russia could support if it ratifies the START II Treaty is also lower than the treaty limit of 3,500 warheads. This does not provide a strong argument for the supporters of START II ratification. However, implementation of START II could significantly reduce the U.S. counterforce potential by eliminating the MX Peacekeeper missiles and reducing the number of sea-based missiles capable of attacking hard targets. The reduction of the U.S. counterforce potential that could result from the START II implementation has been the strongest argument for the ratification of the treaty so far. At the same time, its strength is undermined by the fact that the treaty does not reduce the U.S. counterforce potential irreversibly, allowing for reconstitution of a significant part of the sea- and land-based forces in the event the United States break out from the treaty. Besides, even the reduced Trident force has great remaining counterforce potential, which does not make the START II option more attractive.

Although the opposition to the START II Treaty in Russia is very often centered on the financial problems with its implementation, the difference between START I and START II in terms of the resources Russia will have to spend to maintain its strategic forces is hardly as large as it might seem. While it is true that if Russia ratified the START II Treaty, it would have to eliminate most of its land-based missiles long before they served their full lifetime, the cost of elimination is probably comparable with that of the life-extension programs necessary to keep these systems in service until 2008-2013. Moreover, the operational life of the missiles could not be stretched out indefinitely. This means that if Russia wants to keep its forces at a level of 4,000 warheads, it would have to start development of a new MIRVed missile that could replace the aging SS-18s and SS-19s. Although such a development could not be ruled out, its cost would almost certainly be higher than the expenses associated with the dismantlement of the currently deployed MIRVed missiles.

The Helsinki agreement of March 1997 shows that instead of having to choose between two almost equally unattractive options-START I or START II-Russia would much rather consider a third one. The statement on further reductions of nuclear weapons made in Helsinki calls for the conclusion of a START III Treaty which would reduce the number of strategic warheads to the level of 2,000-2,500 by the beginning of 2008. This is very close to the number of warheads that Russia would have in its arsenal after it ratifies the START II Treaty.

Although the Helsinki statement was certainly a step toward the ratification of the START II by the Russian Duma, the reaction to it shows that it fell short of expectations and might prove insufficient. Part of the problem is that the United States insists that no negotiations can begin before the Duma ratifies the START II Treaty. While this might seem to be a legitimate requirement, from the Russian point of view it effectively neutralizes the agreement on START III reached in Helsinki.

First, without more details on the future START III agreement, it is still unclear whether the new treaty would address the problem of the reconstitution of the U.S. counterforce potential. If it did not, it would weaken one of the strongest arguments for START II ratification. Moreover, the problem of force reconstitution or of "upload potential" has became one of the most contentious issues for START II in Russia. Strong assurances that the new agreement will address this issue is probably one of the best ways to speed up START II ratification.

Second, once START II is in force, the number of warheads in the Russian arsenal will be reduced to the agreed-on START III levels regardless of the progress at the START III negotiations. By ratifying START II now Russia would lose whatever negotiating leverage it currently has and will be faced with a prospect of having protracted START III negotiations without clearly defined goals. Although the Helsinki agreement calls for completion of the START III Treaty by 2003, should the negotiation efforts fail by that time, it would be too late for Russia to return to the START I options it currently has and Russia would find events developing along the uncomfortable START II scenario.

To overcome the stalemate which surrounds the START II Treaty, Russia and the United States should try to reach an agreement similar to the framework agreement which preceded the formal conclusion of the START II Treaty itself. Such a framework agreement, in addition to the already agreed aggregate levels, should outline some of the measures that the sides would agree to implement in the START III Treaty. This agreement, if properly done, would open a way to a quick ratification of the START II Treaty and to the opening of formal negotiations on the next round of nuclear arms reductions.
January 1998,
active systems
January 2008,
January 2008,
Total ICBMs 
Total ICBM warheads 
Delta III/SS-N-18 
Delta IV/SS-N-23 
"Yuri Dolgorukii" 
Total SSBNs/SLBMs 
Total SLBM warheads 
Total bombers 
Total ALCMs 
Total delivery systems 
Total warheads 

(C) Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1998.