Author: Hans M. Kristensen

Chinese Nuclear Missile Upgrade Near Dalian

By Hans M. Kristensen One of the last Chinese Second Artillery brigades with the old liquid-fuel DF-3A intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile appears to have been upgraded to the newer DF-21 road-mobile, dual-capable, medium-range ballistic missile. A new satellite image posted on Google Earth from May 4, 2014, reveals major changes to what appears to be a launch unit site for the Dengshahe brigade northeast of Dalian by the Yellow Sea. The upgrade apparently marks the latest phase in a long and slow conversion of the Dengshahe brigade from the DF-3A to the DF-21. The 810 Brigade base appears to be located approximately 60 km (36 miles) northeast of Dalian in the Liaoning province (see map below). The base is organized under 51 Base, one of six base headquarters organized under the Second Artillery Corps, the military service that operates the Chinese land-based nuclear and conventional missiles. 

Read more

Nuclear Exercises Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: Time For Cooler Heads

A Russian Tu-95MS long-range bomber drops an AS-15 Kent nuclear-capable cruise missiles from its bomb bay on May 8th. Six AS-15s were dropped from the bomb bay that day as part of a Russian nuclear strike exercise. By Hans M. Kristensen Less than a week after Russia carried out a nuclear strike exercise, the United States has begun its own annual nuclear strike exercise. The exercises conducted by the world’s two largest nuclear-armed states come in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, as NATO and Russia appear to slide back down into a tit-for-tat posturing not seen since the Cold War. Military posturing in Russia and NATO threaten to worsen the crisis and return Europe to an "us-and-them" adversarial relationship. One good thing: the crisis so far has demonstrated the uselessness of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. 

Read more

Russian ICBM Force Modernization: Arms Control Please!

Click image for larger version. By Hans M. Kristensen In our Nuclear Notebook on Russian nuclear forces from March this year, Robert S. Norris and I described the significant upgrade that’s underway in Russia’s force of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Over the next decade, all Soviet-era ICBMs will be retired and replaced with a smaller force consisting of mainly five variants of one missile: the SS-27. After more than a decade-and-a-half of introduction, the number of SS-27s now makes up a third of the ICBM force. By 2016, SS-27s will make up more than half of the force, and by 2024 all the Soviet-era ICBMs will be gone. The new force will be smaller and carry fewer nuclear warheads than the old, but a greater portion of the remaining warheads will be on missiles carried on mobile launchers. The big unknowns are just how many SS-27s Russia plans to produce and deploy, and how many new (RS-26 and Sarmat “heavy”) ICBMs will be introduced. Without the new systems or increased production of the old, Russia’s ICBM force would probably level out just below 250 missiles by 2024. In comparison, the U.S. Air Force plans to retain 400 ICBMs. This disparity and the existence of a large U.S. reserve of extra warheads that can be “uploaded” onto deployed missiles to increase the arsenal if necessary drive top-heavy ICBM planning in the Russian military which seeks to maximize the number of warheads on each missile to compensate for the disparity and keep some degree of overall parity with the United States. This dilemma suggests the importance of reaching a new agreement to reduce the number deployed strategic warheads and missiles. A reduction of “up to one-third” of the current force, as recently endorsed by the new U.S. nuclear employment strategy, would be a win for both Russia and the United States. It would allow both countries to trim excess nuclear capacity and save billions of dollars in the process. 

Read more

US Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Number Declassified: Only 309 Warheads Cut By Obama Administration

The Obama administration has yet to make a visible dent in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Click on graph for larger format. By Hans M. Kristensen After a transparency hiatus of four years, the Obama administration has declassified the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile: 4,804 warheads as of September 2013. The new stockpile size is 309 warheads fewer than the 5,113 warheads that the administration in 2010 reported were in the stockpile as of September 2009. The new number of 4,804 warheads is 154 warheads more than Norris and I have in our latest Nuclear Notebook, in which we estimated a stockpile of 4,650 warheads. That estimate was, in part, based on the statement by Donald Cook, the NNSA administrator for defense programs, who in an email in February 2013 informed us that the reduction had been “approximately 85%” since 1967. The new State Department announcement also mentions the “85 percent reduction,” although the 4,804 warheads actually correspond to a reduction of approximately 84 percent from the peak of 31,255 warheads in 1967.  We thought 154 additional warheads had been retired, but apparently that will take a little longer. What the declassification does not include, unfortunately, is a number for how many retired warheads are awaiting dismantlement. That number includes “several thousand” warheads, according to the fact sheet; we estimate approximately 2,500.

Read more

China SSBN Fleet Getting Ready – But For What?

By Hans M. Kristensen China’s emerging fleet of 3-4 new Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines is getting ready to deploy on deterrent patrols, “probably before the end of 2014,” according to U.S. Pacific Command. A new satellite image taken in October 2013 (above) shows a Jin SSBN in dry dock at the Bohai shipyard in Huludao. Two of the submarine’s 12 missile tubes are open. It is unclear if the submarine in the picture is the fourth boat or one of the first three Jin SSBNs that has returned to dry dock for repairs or maintenance. The U.S. intelligence community predicts that “up to five [Jin-class (Type 094) SSBNs] may enter service before China proceeds to its generation SSBN (Type 096) over the next decade,” an indication that the noisy Jin-class design might already be seen as outdated. This and numerous other commercial satellite images (see below) show how China over the past decade has built an infrastructure of naval facilities to service the new SSBN fleet. This includes upgrades at naval bases, submarine hull demagnetization facilities, underground facilities and high-bay buildings for missile storage and handling, and covered tunnels and railways to conceal the activities from prying eyes in the sky. Apart from how many Jin SSBNs China will build, the big question is whether the Chinese government will choose to operate them the way Western nuclear-armed states have operated their SSBNs for decades – deployed continuously at sea with nuclear warheads on the ballistic missiles – or continue China’s long-held policy of not deploying nuclear weapons outside Chinese territory but keeping them in central storage for deployment in a crisis. 

Read more

The B61 Family of Nuclear Bombs

By Hans M. Kristensen Robert Norris and I have made an update to our Nuclear Notebook on the B61 nuclear bomb family. Kind of an arcane title but that cozy-feeling title is what the nuclear weapon designers call that half a dozen different types of B61 nuclear weapons that were derived from the original design. And it’s kind of timely, because the Obama administration is about to give birth to the newest member of the B61 family: the B61-12. And this is a real golden baby estimated at about $10 billion. 

Read more

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Design Features

Click on image to download high-resolution version. By Hans M. Kristensen Additional design details of the new B61-12 guided standoff nuclear bomb are emerging with new images. The image above shows a full-scale B61-12 model hanging in a wind tunnel at Arnold Air Force Base. The test “uncovered a previously uncharacterized physical phenomenon,” according to Sandia National Laboratories, that would affect weapons performance. Apparently a reference to the interaction between weapons spin rocket motors and the new guided tail kit assembly. Existing B61 models do not have the guided tail kit and are less accurate than the B61-12.

Read more

Obama Administration Decision Weakens New START Implementation

At the same time the Air Force is destroying 50 silos at Malmstrom AFB (above) and another 50 at F.E Warren AFB emptied by the Bush administration, the Obama administration has decided to retain 50 silos scheduled to be emptied under the New START treaty. By Hans M. Kristensen After four years of internal deliberations, the U.S. Air Force has decided to empty 50 Minuteman III ICBMs from 50 of the nation’s 450 ICBM silos. Instead of destroying the empty silos, however, they will be kept “warm” to allow reloading the missiles in the future if necessary. The decision to retain the silos rather than destroy them is in sharp contrast to the destruction of 100 empty silos currently underway at Malmstrom AFB and F.E. Warren AFB. Those silos were emptied of Minuteman and MX ICBMs in 2005-2008 by the Bush administration and are scheduled to be destroyed by 2016. 

Read more