November 11, 2013
Russia is making new nuclear delivery systems a national priority, with a new ballistic-missile submarine class and missile in production; continued deliveries of a modern, road-mobile ICBM; and reports of a new silo-based heavyweight weapon.
The nation is arming its bomber fleet with a new cruise missile and plans a new bomber (as does the U.S.), while tactical nuclear weapons are still considered an option for major combined-arms theater-scale wars.
Western experts across the hawk-to-dove spectrum tend to agree that Russia's motivation is a perception of conventional-force weakness relative to the U.S., NATO and China, which in turn stems from the Russian economy's inability to support rapid modernization of air, land and naval forces. However, some go further than this and argue that the Russian emphasis on nuclear weapons is destabilizing and could lead to the breaking of some nuclear weapon treaties.
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. The RT-2UTTKh Topol-M (identified by the U.S. and NATO as the SS-27 Sickle-B) was deployed in silos in the late 1990s and as a road-mobile ICBM in 2006. The 104,000-lb., cold-launched missile is carried on a 16-wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle.
The Topol-M was designed on the assumption that the 1993 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) II would come into force, banning land-based missiles with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRV), so the original versions were all single-warhead missiles. Nevertheless, 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.