New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2012

More than two-thirds of Russia’s current ICBM force will be retired over the next 10 years, a reduction that will only partly be offset by deployment of new road-mobile RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) ICBMs such as this one near Teykovo northeast of Moscow.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russia is planning to retire more than two-thirds of its current arsenal of nuclear land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles by the early 2020a. That includes some of the most iconic examples of the Soviet threat against the United States: SS-18 Satan, SS-19 Stiletto, and the world’s first road-mobile ICBM, the SS-25.

The plan coincides with the implementation of the New START treaty but significantly exceeds the reductions required by the treaty.

During the same period, Russia plans to deploy significant numbers of new missiles, but the production will not be sufficient to offset the retirement of old missiles. As a result, the size of Russia’s ICBM force is likely to decline over the next decade – with or without a new nuclear arms control treaty.

This and much more is described in our latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

7 thoughts on “New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2012

  1. If the SS-25s are going to be retired, and new construction will focus on Yars and the SS-18 replacement, doesn’t that mean the SRF is getting more heavily MIRVed overall? So isn’t this kind of bad news?

    Reply: Any MIRV is certainly bad news, if you ask me. And I think the Bush administration made a huge blunder by abandoning START II (which included a Russian acceptance of a ban on MIRVed ICBMs) in favor of the Moscow Treaty. In terms of the SRF overall, it already is heavily MIRVed because of the SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs with 10 and 6 warheads, respectively. The SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24 or Yars) can carry 6 smaller MIRVs but it is not being produced in sufficient numbers to offset the retirement of the older MIRVed systems. In the future a greater portion of their MIRVed missiles will be on wheels. That number could potentially include 75 mobile RS-24s by the early-2020s (they have 15 now). But part of their future RS-24 deployment will go into silos. HK

  2. SS-25 was the second mobile complex, please, don’t forget SS-16 (at least one division +).

    Reply: As far as I’m aware, the SS-16 (or SS-X-16) was an attempt to design a road-mobile ICBM, but it was never fully operationally deployed. According to the NRDC Nuclear Weapons Databook Volume IV, Soviet Nuclear Weapons (p. 118), up to 200 missiles were produced with about 60 stored at the test range at Plesetsk. Some analysts in the US government suspected probable deployment of about 50 missiles, but the Soviet Union agreed under the SALT II treaty not to produce, test, or deploy the SS-16. The missile at Plesetsk apparently were removed and sent into storage. HK

  3. SS-25 grew in numbers?

    Reply: No, our estimate from 2011 was too low, assuming withdrawal of more SS-25s than occurred. We used an average retirement rate based on the experience from previous years but it turned out to be too optimistic. This uncertainty is the product of the New START treaty which prevents the United States from releasing Russia’s full aggregate data. HK

  4. What numbers this book states for R-36 production?

    432 were produced, but 146 were used in launches,in 1970 was 100st launch.
    Actually I’m not read this book (i’m dismissed this book as propaganda and direct lies, such as absurd statements for 150mt yield for the AN602, however its yield known since 1961 as 100mt, it was designed as 100mt, but most probable yield for test was 35 megatons, again it never been build and tested again, clean versions of 40mt and 50mt devices were tested in 1962, again never weaponized, for AN602 installation has been considered on N2, 6 never been build, probably this is direct lies, there at least 6 cases were build for a RDS-202 (38mt design based on RDS-37 in 1956), so i’m ask you what was a NRDC assumptions for 16,700 megatons of USSR stockpile in 1973. Again there 46 R-36 with 8.3 mt were ever deployed, not 120. So what were NRDC assumptions for 16,700 megatons?

    Reply: You’ll have to talk to the authors of the NRDC report (Thomas Cochran, William Arkin, Robert Norris, Jeffrey Sands). You can reach Cochran via HK

  5. Considering that of those 10,000 only ~1800 are actually deployed, the remaining ~8,000 are either too old to be considered reliable or are stored in one of a very few storage sites (thus allowing a single warhead or two to render the magazines inaccessible) I would say limited nuclear war is still possible. In fact lower numbers actually increase the chance of a limited nuclear exchange, especially if ICBMs are eliminated or drawdown to very low levels (150 or less).

    Without the ICBM target sink we would be left with only 2 SSBN bases (possibly one if those short-sighted enough to get ICBMs eliminated have their way) and 1 – 3 bomber bases (current 3 but why assume all those would be kept?). If those are eliminated/disabled in anyway the only surviving strategic forces would be the at sea SSBNs that will have to return to port at some point.

    Not to mention the lower total numbers go the more likely it is that cities will be targeted directly since we will no longer have sufficient weapons to target only military targets (which I admit are all to often found close by or even in cities).

    But don’t worry, I’m sure Russia and China just want to be our friends. And if anything really bad happens at least we have the French to protect us……

  6. Sigh. You state several things you accept as ‘fact’ without a shred of evidence, Keith. By the way, as long as a nuclear weapon is in existence a ‘nuclear war’ is possible.

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