Cold War Arsenal

Moscow GRANITSA ROSSII, Nov 95 No 41, pp 6-7
Interview with Retired Major-General Vladimir Semenovich Belous, candidate of technical sciences, associate of the Committee of Scientists for Global Security and expert of the Russian Parliament, by GRANITSA ROSSII Correspondent Vladimir Davydov

Our guest, Retired Major- General Vladimir Semenovich Belous, candidate of technical sciences, associate of the Committee of Scientists for Global Security and expert of the Russian Parliament, continues the conversation on the Cold War and its consequences.

[Davydov] The end of the Cold War and the transition of Russia and the United States to partner relations is not a momentary act but a lengthy and somewhat painful process. Even after a radical reduction, both sides will still be capable of destroying each other. Consequently, maybe disarmament has only started and we'll still have to wait a long time for the finish while taking into account the dismantlement of the nuclear potential of China, England, France... That is why legitimate questions arise: What function will nuclear weapons perform today and in the future? What characteristics is Russia's nuclear strategy acquiring as a result of the changed geopolitical situation?

[Belous] In recent years, the majority of political scientists and military experts have arrived at the conclusion that nuclear weapons are not a weapon of war because it is impossible to achieve rational political goals with their help. The Earth is too small and frail to become a theater of military operations with the employment of the absolute weapon. The only acceptable function of these weapons is deterrence of a potential aggressor. And Russia's nuclear forces must have the capability to inflict unacceptable damage to any potential aggressor in retaliatory operations for deterrence to be convincing and realistic. Therefore the determination of the optimal composition and structure of Russia's strategic nuclear forces is a most relevant task. Its resolution requires first of all a thorough analysis of a series of geopolitical, economic, military, and ecological problems of the Treaty on the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons (START-2).

[Davydov] Vladimir Semenovich, let's dwell on the military aspects of the Treaty.

[Belous] In accordance with START-2, the total number of nuclear warheads on the strategic offensive weapons of Russia and the United States (intercontinental ballistic missiles -- ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- SLBMs, and heavy bombers -- HBs) will total 3,000-3,500 by January 1, 2003. That means that the nuclear arsenals of the sides will be decreased by approximately two-thirds as compared to their level at the present time (more than 20,000 warheads) or by twice as many in contrast to the level agreed to in the START-1 Treaty.

In the process, all of the ICBMs with multiple independent reentry vehicles [MIRVs] are being eliminated, thereby removing the most destabilizing element from the sides' complement of nuclear weapons that provokes a "counterforce" or "preemptive" nuclear strike. Russia and the United States will reduce the number of nuclear warheads on their submarines to 1,700-1,750 warheads. (Right now, the component of the American submarine fleet totals 3,456 nuclear warheads).

Restrictions are being established on nuclear warheads with which the heavy bombers of the treaty parties can be equipped. This limit totals from 750 to 1,250 warheads of any type, be they long range air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), short range cruise missiles or nuclear bombs. An appreciable step forward has been made here. Under START-1, the nuclear warhead count on heavy bombers was relative in nature. For example, an American heavy bomber equipped with ALCMs counted as 10 warheads when certain types of heavy bombers are technically capable of carrying up to 20 warheads and the United States, in accordance with that Treaty, theoretically had the capability to increase the actual (but not the countable) number of nuclear warheads by 2,000-2,500. The START-2 Treaty eliminates that possibility and "reduces" the U.S. arsenal of air-based nuclear weapons.

[Davydov] What is the actual mechanism for the reduction of the Cold War arsenals?

[Belous] In the first stage when START-2 enters into force, each of the sides will reduce its strategic offensive weapons over the course of seven years so that:

  • the total level of warheads of strategic offensive weapons each side has does not exceed 3,800-4,250;
  • the number of warheads on ICBMs with MIRVs is 1,200; and,
  • the number of warheads on SLBMs is 2,160.

    And, during the second stage, all of the remaining steps to achieve the maximum levels of strategic offensive weapons that have been established for the sides will be implemented by January 1, 2003.

    As is known, priority in the construction of our strategic offensive weapons was previously assigned to land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), on which up to 65 percent of the warheads were located. Approximately 25 percent of the warheads were installed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and 10 percent on heavy bombers (HBs). The United States counted on the sea component of the Triad (65 percent of the warheads) and the remaining portion of the nuclear warheads were divided approximately equally between ICBMs and heavy bombers. 1

    So, the existing asymmetry of strategic offensive weapons is being eliminated with the ratification of START-2 which will undoubtedly serve international stabilization. [Davydov] It's not difficult to note that START-2 compels us to substantial "rearrangements" in the Triad of nuclear delivery systems. Specifically, the portion of nuclear warheads on SLBMs will reach 50 percent. This is the upper limit and it can be reduced by increasing other components. What is this? Imitating the Americans or imparting the proper quality to our missile submarines?

    [Belous] The infatuation with submarines is explained by their high survivability. Furthermore, in the event a nuclear strike is conducted against missile submarines, combat operations are conducted outside the borders of the territory of the belligerents and the simultaneous destruction of the peaceful population does not occur as in a ground TVD [theater of military operations]. [Davydov] But the sea component has its own well-known shortcomings.

    [Belous] Certainly. No more than 20-30 percent of Russia's submarine fleet and 30-40 percent of the American nuclear weapons-carrying fleet is on combat patrol on the ocean at the same time. And the submarines that are located at the bases become a quite enticing target since one can destroy hundreds of warheads that are located on the moored missile submarines with one or two warheads.

    In the last decades of the Cold War, the United States and its allies appreciably improved submarine surveillance systems and combat tactics with the submarines of the potential enemy. Many kilometer-long acoustic antennas that are located on the ocean bottom permit them to maintain under continuous monitoring three quarters of the important areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in an operational sense in which Russian submariners can also operate. The high noise level of our submarines permits the Americans to detect them at ranges of up to 1,000 kilometers...

    This circumstance substantially reduces the degree of protection of our nuclear weapons-carrying submarine forces. According to the calculations of Western experts, up to 30-40 percent of Russian missile submarines that are at sea could be destroyed during the course of the antisubmarine warfare operations of the initial period of the war. If in the process you take into account that the probability of the destruction of submarines located at bases is quite high in the event of the surprise initiation of war, then consequently the losses of our missile submarines could reach approximately 70-80 percent during the initial phase of the clash.

    [Davydov] What is the solution? Russia obviously cannot afford to create a gigantic Sonar tracking system like the American system...

    [Belous] From the point of view of our country's security, the most rational approach is the attainment of a Russo-American agreement on the restriction of antisubmarine warfare activity which will spare us from the burden of expenditures and will strengthen strategic stability. However, even in the future, in the event of the attainment of numerical equality of the sea component, the United States will have a well-known military advantage since it has traditionally developed its sea component of the Triad and significantly outstrips us in this.

    [Davydov] Matters are not proceeding well with the aviation component of our strategic offensive weapons which was traditionally assigned a secondary role in all of the previous scenarios of possible nuclear conflicts.

    [Belous] This is explained by Russia's geostrategic position, the absence of military bases on territories that are adjacent to the United States, the vulnerability of bomber aviation to PVO [Air Defense] systems, and the relatively low indicator based upon the "cost- effectiveness" criterion. The situation is also complicated by the fact that a significant portion of modern heavy bombers have turned out to be in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. This has resulted in the fact that Russia actually has only 25 heavy bombers of a total number of 99 that belonged to the USSR that are capable of carrying cruise missiles and also 61 bombers with nuclear weapons that do not correspond to the cruise missile class. The dilapidated military- industrial complex that has undermined its potential as a result of haphazardly organized conversion does not strengthen our defensive positions. If steps are not taken today to lead us out of the crisis of the aircraft manufacturing complex, Russia's strategic Triad will be transformed into a Dyad because a large portion of bomber aviation consists of Tu-95 aircraft that were designed in the 1960's. We need an aviation component in the composition of the strategic offensive weapons structure because this will increase the flexibility of the utilization of the strategic nuclear forces.

    [Davydov] Vladimir Semenovich, how will the native Strategic Missile Forces [SMF] be viewed in the context of START-2?

    [Belous] Previously, we assumed that if Russia is a continental power, then intercontinental ballistic missiles should occupy a dominant position in its nuclear forces. The RVSN [Strategic Missile Forces] is most advantageously distinguished from the other components of the strategic offensive weapons based upon its technical equipment, operational readiness, system of protection and prevention of random or unsanctioned operations with the absolute weapon. Furthermore, the operation of ICBMs costs much less than the other components of the Triad. Based upon the "cost-effectiveness" criterion, the SMF do not have equals because 10-12 percent of the military budget is expended on their maintenance. The composition, structure of the missile troops force and, specifically, the correlation of the number of fixed and mobile systems now, after the disintegration of the USSR and the domination of the United States and NATO, evoke contradictory opinions. In my view, it is advisable to have an SMF force in the following composition: approximately 65 percent of the warheads -- on fixed (silo) missile systems and approximately 35 percent on mobile systems.

    [Davydov] Why precisely that proportion?

    [Belous] In accordance with the Treaty, Russia has the right to preserve 105 SS-19 ICBMs, having left one warhead each on them (instead of six) and to also place 90 single- warhead solid fuel missiles in reequipped SS-18 ICBM silos. Besides this, it is advisable to reequip approximately 400 silos on the territory of Russia in which obsolete SS-11, SS-13 and SS-17 missiles are located. So, a fixed ICBM force with the minimal possible economic expenditures that are needed for the modernization of the silos and the gradual replacement of obsolete missiles will total approximately 600 warheads.

    This force of fixed modern single-warhead missiles will significantly reduce the asymmetry in the counterforce capabilities of both countries' precision-guided weapons. The United States' strategic offensive weapons will have 500 Minuteman-III missiles with a single warhead and 400 Trident-2 SLBM W-88 warheads to inflict a disarming strike. Furthermore, in the event that the United States, in violation of the Treaty, restores the full complement of warheads on the Minuteman-III missiles (an additional 1,000 warheads), then Russia retains the capability to also additionally locate 525 warheads (105 X 5) on SS-19 missiles. Fixed ICBMs have high operational readiness and they are the only ones from the Russian strategic offensive weapons that are capable of inflicting a retaliatory strike which is a powerful deterrent factor.

    It is advisable to preserve (without increasing) the existing force of SS-25 (Topol) mobile ICBMs, bearing in mind that Belarus manufactures the missiles' transporter launchers and we will be compelled to either pay for them at high monopoly prices or to organize our own production. The SS-24 rail missile systems with 10 warheads are ending up under the restrictions accumulated by the Treaty and are subject to elimination.

    [Davydov] But proponents of mobile ICBMs, citing their high survivability, propose to increase their portion in the SMF force... to 60 percent contrary to your concept.

    [Belous] We will not dismiss their arguments out of hand but we will thoroughly investigate all of the "pro's" and con's" and the "for's" and "against's" of mobile ICBMs, and first of all from the point of view of the cost of attack, that is, the average number of warheads needed for the enemy to destroy one of ours. Calculations indicate that with the deployment of ICBMs in silos, the cost of attack totals 2.2-2.4 (for reliability of destruction, the Pentagon plans to employ two warheads for each target), the probability of destruction of mobile ICBMs based in garrisons depends on the reliability of the warning system. If tactical warning (on the launch of enemy missiles) is adequate for fixed ICBMs, strategic warning on enemy preparations to conduct a strike is needed for mobile missiles. To reduce the probability of destruction of SS-25 ICBMs with a cost of attack of three, we need to ensure strategic warning no later than one hour prior to the conduct of the strike.

    The situation has also been complicated by the fact that the enemy can prepare a first strike (cost of attack less than one) using alert forces. A missile strike from submarines that are cruising off Russia's shores poses a similar danger for our mobile systems. Incidentally, the probability of destruction of mobile systems that are located in garrisons or on patrol routes is approximately identical both with the employment of Trident-2 SLBMs and with the utilization of the less accurate Trident-1 SLBMs. We must also take into account that the resistance to damage of SS-25 ICBMs (the predictions of American experts) to the destructive effect of the strike wave is low, much less than the similar American Midgetman system (0.3 and 2.0 kg/cm, respectively). The explosion of a warhead with a yield of 0.5 megatons is capable of putting an SS-25 out of commission at a distance of approximately seven kilometers from the epicenter...

    Increasing the survivability of mobile ICBMs can be achieved in the event that they are dispersed in extensive patrol areas according to the law of chance already in peacetime. The calculations of American experts have shown that a total area of approximately 190,000 square kilometers will be required to deploy a force consisting of 500 SS-25 ICBMs. A decrease of the dispersal area may be achieved by increasing the resistance to damage of ICBM launchers to the destructive effect of a ground-level nuclear explosion but, in the process, the probability of their destruction increases using super-EMI [electromagnetic interference], that is, powerful pulses of electromagnetic radiation that arise during high-altitude explosions. By way of illustration, a 10 megaton explosion at an altitude of 300-400 kilometers over the geographic center of the state could disable the operation of all territorial electronic systems...

    [Davydov] Among the deficiencies of mobile ICBMs, we must include a heightened risk of accidents during their movement in patrol areas and the weak level of protection from terrorist and subversive teams. Incidentally, Hollywood has already gotten the most out of this story in dozens of movies...

    [Belous] To the cited counter-arguments, I would add the mobile systems' limitation in vehicle utilization. We need a much higher number of personnel for their maintenance than for fixed missiles. And the maintenance and operation of mobile ICBMs are significantly more expensive. The U.S.'s attitude toward mobile ICBMs is quite revealing. As is known, the Pentagon planned the deployment of MX rail missile launchers and Midgetman mobile ground- based ICBMs. However, they rejected the initial concepts of operations after a painstaking elaboration of the military- political, economic and ecological factors ...

    The elimination of the Cold War arsenals in accordance with the START-2 Treaty and also the conduct of rearming will require significant financial expenditures. Therefore, experts of Russia's defense complex need to conduct a painstaking economic analysis of the proposed variants of the composition of Russian strategic offensive weapons and various technologies for the elimination and scrapping of obsolete weapons. With a well thought-out approach to disarmament, its implementation is possible with minimally required expenditures and with maintenance of the state's defense capability at a level that permits us to reliably guarantee Russia's security and national interests.

    [Davydov] Thank you.


    1. One can become acquainted in more detail about the evolution of U.S. nuclear strategy in V.S. Belous' books: "SShA: yadernyye kogti `yastrebov'" [The United States: The Nuclear Claws of the `Hawks'], "Kosmicheskiy udar" [Space Strike], "Neytronnyy shag k yadernoy katastrofe" [The Neutron Step Toward Nuclear Catastrophe], "Kosmicheskaya ruletka Pentagona" [The Pentagon's Space Roulette Wheel] and others.