The Maritime Component of the Nuclear Triad: It Embodies the Best Achievements of the Domestic Military- Industrial Complex

14 Mar 96 No 5, p 6
by Admiral Oleg Aleksandrovich Yerofeyev, commander of the Northern Fleet and candidate of military sciences

One can objectively assess the START-2 Treaty and understand its merits and shortcomings only with a clear understanding that it, like any other international agreement, is a compromise. Therefore, the determining thing in this assessment must be what Russia will get from this treaty and what it will lose. Its main merit is that it contributes to a strengthening of strategic stability and a significant decrease in the danger of nuclear war. This not only is of primary importance for both parties to the treat but also affects the security of other states in a most positive manner.

To date, an important factor is that the START-2 Treaty has been signed (and already ratified by the U.S. Senate). Russia, like any other country, is obligated to observe international treaties. Therefore, it would be reasonable to stop the debate about the need for this treaty and about infringing upon Russia's interests, thereby not damaging the international prestige of our state.

For the military, discussion of an order after it has entered into legal force is simply disastrous. This decreases the combat readiness and morale of the troops and naval forces and justifies cowardice and failure to perform, which leads directly to defeat. I am not opposed to collective creativity in development of questions of organizational development, reform, and employment of the armed forces, but all this should be done before the decision is made and the order is issued. In our case, before the signing of the START-2 Treaty. Now we can only discuss how it is best for Russia to observe this treaty. I consider myself among those who are convinced that Russia's nuclear forces today act as a guarantee of universal stability in the world and are one of the main components of the comprehensive system of national security.

The authors of various articles both criticize certain concessions to the United States on the part of Russia that were put in the START-2 Treaty and make proposals on the structure of our country's future strategic forces. New voices have appeared recently in the general chorus of debates on the role and place of the START-2, voicing the departmental and corporate interests of a certain group of individuals. The authors of these articles, understanding the complexity of the country's economic situation and the insufficiency of financing of the armed forces, try to impose on public opinion and the leadership of the Ministry of Defense the viewpoint of the need for priority financing of some or other branch of the Russian Federation Armed Forces as a whole and the strategic triad in particular.

It is precisely such an impression that forms after reading a number of articles obviously representing the interests of the Strategic Missile Troops in the financial struggle. The authors regard sea-based nuclear forces merely as a secondary insurance to land-based missile forces, and strategic aviation is seen by them in general as an insignificant component of the strategic nuclear forces [SNF], which serves merely for accounting of the number of weapons for the START-1 and START-2 levels. It is difficult to explain the position of those who propose abandoning the maritime component of the strategic forces altogether.

In advocating preservation of the priority of the Strategic Missile Troops [RVSN], the authors place primary emphasis on the fact that Russia traditionally has a substantial advantage over the United States in the area of land-based (silo and mobile) intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM's]. Abandoning the priority in this area, in their opinion, is a concession to our partner. And this postulate is supported by the significant advantages of land-based ICBM's. At first glance, their arguments seem quite convincing, especially for the layman.

Unfortunately, the existing opinion about Russia as a continental power has formed a continental mentality among the population. This has an effect on our entire way of life and on organizational development of the armed forces, including on the priorities of development of the nuclear forces. For some reason, the opinion has become ingrained in many that a continental power must station nuclear weapons basically on its own territory. Why? After all, logic suggests that the more nuclear missiles are stationed on one's territory, the more enemy missiles are aimed at these installations.

So, should we reduce strategic missile-carrying submarine cruisers [RPKSN] and strategic aviation, despite the fact that they are the most maneuverable and effective components of the strategic triad, and not only leave land- based missiles but also develop them? It is naive! Such an approach reflects a lack of understanding of the problem or its conscious distortion.

Of course, the problem of developing strategic nuclear forces is quite specific and should hardly be brought out for broad and open discussion. It is not so terrible when the quantitative indicators of missiles and warheads on various platforms are cited. It is much worse when they disclose the strong and weak points of our main weapons, their individual characteristics, areas and methods of patrolling, range of detection and tracking, and much else, which provides an invaluable service to foreign intelligence agents.

From my point of view, it is absolutely immoral, for the purpose of increasing the prestige of one component of the triad, to talk about accidents and emergency situations in the other components on the pages of open publications. It is surprising that arguments on the verge of divulging classified data are presented as sprouts of democracy in the military sphere.

It seems to me that the essence of democracy is to strictly follow the letter of the law, and it is the duty of a military leader to instill this spirit in subordinates. Therefore, I am convinced that special aspects of the topic of strategic nuclear forces must be discussed at closed meetings involving a limited circle of specialists. Within the framework of the open press, one can conduct discussions in a scope that does not harm national security.

So, what will we get after observance of the START-2 Treaty?

The treaty calls for a change in the structure of Russia's SNF. More than half of the strategic nuclear weapons must be located on sea-based forces. That is how it is specified in Article 1, paragraph 4a, of the treaty. Understanding the role of the maritime strategic nuclear forces [MSNF] as a powerful deterrence factor and a most important component of the strategic triad in safeguarding the country's security, in June 1995 the president of Russia issued Decree No. 567 "On Urgent Measures To Maintain the Combat Readiness of Maritime Strategic Nuclear Forces."

But the realities of today are such that the government has virtually stopped financing of the maritime component of the SNF. The funds requested for maintaining and restoring the combat readiness of strategic missile- carrying cruiser submarines have not been allocated. A similar situation is taking shape this year, too. This has already resulted in the Northern Fleet removing from service modern strategic missile-carrying Typhoon-class submarines, and repair is being delayed for years for other modern Dolphin-class RPKSN's, the age of which is less than 10 years.

If things continue to go this way, by the year 2000 the state will be deprived of one of the main components of the strategic triad--maritime strategic nuclear forces. Attempts to justify the need to develop the RVSN as the basis of the strategic triad based on the Topol missile system to the detriment of the maritime strategic nuclear forces will lead to nothing good. A breech in the nuclear shield is inevitable.

Such proposals have become the result of a stereotyped, purely mechanical calculation of the number of platforms and warheads each of the parties to the treaty has, disregard for the requirements of military art, and unfounded references to the geostrategic position of our state. Yes, such an approach to the problem is very convenient for a discussion about parity. In conditions of a considerable reduction in the SNF, when under the treaty both sides make concessions to one another, the main task of those in the military and experts is to search for possibilities of compensating for the treaty's shortcomings for Russia by increasing the effectiveness of employing strategic forces. The art of a military leader lies in, based on a careful assessment of the situation, an analysis of the strong and weak aspects of friendly and enemy forces, and calculations made, determining the methods of operations in order to achieve the required result with the minimum of assets. And this can and must be done by developing operational art of employing the country's strategic forces.

For those who analyze military history, are familiar with the conclusions of military science, and study the conflicts of recent years, it is clear that victory in a war can be won only by the side that actively employs maneuver of forces and weapons in combination with the power of a strike, competently affects the enemy's weak aspects, and skillfully uses his own branches of forces to compensate for the weak aspects of some with the strong aspects of others.

The geographic position of the United States makes it extremely vulnerable to maneuvering maritime strategic nuclear forces, since about 50 percent of all strategic installations are located along the country's west and east coasts.

At the same time, our country's geostrategic position and the known locations of silo launchers and position areas of maneuvering missile systems predetermine the directions of approach of missiles and warheads to strike targets and enable the opposing side to build in advance a powerful, sufficiently effective and comparatively inexpensive antiballistic missile [ABM] defense oriented on repelling a strike namely from these directions. It is problematic to penetrate such an ABM system due to problems with creating a high density of approaching warheads when using single-warhead missiles of the Topol system from one direction. In doing this, the enemy's ABM system, due to the large distances and virtually instantaneous detection of missiles being launched, will have the maximum amount of time to prepare to repel such an strike.

Employing the SS-24 in the railroad variant is also quite problematic, since supporting the maneuver by strategic weapons over thousands of kilometers requires the involvement of enormous forces and assets. Moreover, the presence of such weapons on railroad rolling stock is determined very simply and quickly. In our country and abroad there are instruments for detecting nuclear weapons both from the ground and from the air. And the maneuver itself on the territory of the country, even over considerable distances, may not significantly change the direction of the missile's approach to the targets precisely due to the country's geostrategic position. This factor requires a considerably larger number of land-based missile systems compared to sea-based ones to hit the same targets on enemy territory. It is extremely difficult to organize the simultaneous approach of warheads or platforms to the targets for penetration of an ABM system, particularly in the event of disruptions and jamming in communications systems and command and control systems for these missile systems.

Let us now try to look at the maritime component of the strategic triad--the maritime strategic nuclear forces- -from different positions. The indisputable advantages of the MSNF are:

--RPKSN's constantly and secretly maneuver submerged in vast areas of the world's oceans and are able to take up firing positions in the shortest possible time;

--RPKSN systems can ensure the approach of missiles and warheads from one direction with a high density and guarantee a high probability of penetration of the enemy's ABM system;

--the design possibilities of the missile systems of RPKSN's make it possible to carry out missile launches from any point in the world's oceans, including from the polar region;

--submarine-launched ballistic missiles [SLBM's] ensure hitting up to 200 targets in one salvo;

--located in the world's oceans in relative proximity to the targets, SLBM's ensure a considerably shorter time of approach of warheads to targets than continental systems of the RVSN, making it more difficult to prepare the ABM system to repel the strikes.

One can add to this the surprise of operations of the RPKSN's and the complexity of detecting SLBM launches, since the patrol area of RPKSN's, unlike land-based systems, is virtually unknown to the enemy. And it is technically difficult to create an equally strong perimeter ABM system and requires enormous financial expenditures. In addition, sea-launched missiles, unlike RVSN missiles, have the potential possibility of significantly improving their parameters, making their detection and destruction more difficult.

What has been said, I think, leads one to a conclusion about the effectiveness of sea-launched missiles--it is immeasurably higher than that of the RVSN's intercontinental missiles. Statements of individual experts about the insufficient accuracy of employing sea-launched missiles, the comparatively small nuclear charge, and the relatively short firing range do not withstand any criticism.

From the standpoint of common sense and state interests, and bearing in mind Russia's geostrategic position, development of maritime strategic forces must be priority, or at least equal. Incidentally, the START-2 Treaty also orients us in this direction.

Our opponents cite as one of their main arguments the fact that Russian strategic submarines have less undetectability than, say, American submarines and, therefore, can be easily tracked and destroyed by antisubmarine warfare [ASW] submarines.

Indeed, during the Cold War, U.S. military command authorities and political leadership considered combating our RPKSN's a national problem and now devote an enormous amount of attention to solving it. You see, for many parameters our strategic submarines surpass the best models submarine building in the United States, Great Britain, and France. Such parameters include: running depth when using weapons; speed of the RPKSN's; pre-launch preparation time; virtually unlimited areas for employing missile weapons; the possibility of launching missiles from any position of the RPKSN; the small time interval, numbering several seconds, between missile launches; and high survivability of submarines. That is why this most powerful and menacing weapon evokes great respect from the enemy and forces him to divert considerable forces to combating it.

And only for one indicator--noise level--are our RPKSN's inferior to foreign submarines, which makes it possible to detect and track these submarines. We know this shortcoming, talk openly about it (unlike our opponents), and most importantly are working on methods of operation and taking the necessary steps to eliminate the negative influence of this factor on the effectiveness of employing RPKSN's. And as a result, we already now have concrete results of the joint work of submarine crews and the staffs and directorates controlling their operations.

Despite this shortcoming, the secrecy of the RPKSN's is many times greater than that of land-based systems. And it is precisely this circumstance that makes it possible to consider the MSNF the main factor of deterring an aggressor. This component of the nuclear triad gives the country's military-political leadership more time than the RVSN to make a decision to use nuclear weapons in a retaliatory strike.

Another argument against development of the maritime strategic nuclear forces is the high cost of creating and operating them. In response to this, one could simply say that no one in our country has ever done such calculations and research. However, American experts, who know how to count money, have conducted such research. They concluded that it is the sea-based forces that are the most economical component of the nuclear triad.

Speaking of the high cost of maintaining missile systems, let us note this fact: there are 27 times fewer personnel engaged in the maritime strategic nuclear forces than in the RVSN.

The accusation is made against seamen that most of the RPKSN's, unlike American SSBN's, are not on patrol at sea, but are at bases. This indeed is the case, but the reason for this is not that they are not capable of carrying out missions at sea, but that due to the lack of proper financing, fleet command authorities strictly conserve service life, fuels and lubricants, and additional pay (which seamen must receive when performing combat missions at sea). But all our strategic submarines are ready to launch missiles on order within the time periods required for making a retaliatory strike. It is unrealistic to destroy our strategic submarines at the piers with the start of war, as some authors assert, since today it is absolutely impossible to secretly create a grouping of forces to begin combat operations. In the event of aggravation of the international situation, a system is introduced in the fleets which provides for special measures to preserve not only strategic submarines but also other fleet forces.

In talking about the need and expediency of preserving and developing the maritime strategic nuclear forces, I do not at all call for copying the U.S. nuclear triad, since I see well the different objectives of employing the MSNF of the United States and Russia. Whereas in the United States and other nuclear powers (Great Britain, France, having practically no land-based strategic missile systems in service) the primary objectives of developing the MSNF are to create conditions of security on their own territory, preserve the ecology, take nuclear weapons out to sea, and secrecy of the location and operations of SSBN's, for Russia it is to increase the effectiveness of operations of the strategic nuclear forces. Despite the fact that the objectives which the other nuclear powers pursue are not inconsequential to Russia, we all must think about the security of our territory.

Finally, about the reliability of the command, control, and communications system of submerged strategic submarines. Only a person who has never encountered questions of command and control of submarines can talk about their insufficient reliability. As in other nuclear powers, a whole system (both primary and back-up) of communicating with submarines has been created and reliably operates in our Navy. Thanks to this system, a submerged submarine receives information from shore on a real-time basis. This is confirmed by special exercises and ballistic missile launches not only according to the fleets' combat training plans, but also under the direction of the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the president of Russia.

Thus, Russia's MSNF embodies the best achievements of domestic submarine building and missile building. They are the pride of our people, the most effective component of the strategic nuclear triad of the Russian Federation, and require much attention not only for their content today, but also for the development and construction of a new generation of these ships.

I do not suggest abandoning development and construction of the RVSN--success in combat employment of the SNF is only in their comprehensive development. It is obvious that the attention on the part of the leadership of our state and armed forces must be at least the same for all three components of the strategic triad.

That is why the attempts by individual experts to negate the role of strategic aviation and to abandon its development cause total bewilderment. You see, neither the RVSN nor the MSNF can successfully operate on the strength of their technical capabilities against mobile targets (such as maneuvering missile systems, air defense systems, armored formations, staffs and command posts, aircraft carriers, guided-missile task forces, special vessels for transporting nuclear weapons) which must be hit in the shortest possible time with a high degree of effectiveness in the event a nuclear war starts. This mission can be accomplished successfully only by strategic aviation using cruise missiles.

Thus, Russia's SNF must be the main element of deterrence and be structure based on the need to accomplish specific strategic missions, supplementing and reinforcing one another.

Under no circumstances can we permit the spontaneity of the process of observing the START-2 Treaty, during the course of which a not always honest struggle is waged for priorities in financing the component parts of the SNF triad.