Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded. 


The report estimates that Russia retains about 1,200 nuclear warheads deployed on ICBMs, slightly higher than our estimate of 1,050. That is probably a little high because it would imply that the SSBN force only carries about 220 warheads instead of the 440, or so, warheads we estimate are on the submarines.

“Most” of the ICBMs “are maintained on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order,” the report states. This excessive alert posture is similar to that of the United States, which has essentially all of its ICBMs on alert.

The report also confirms that although Russia is developing and deploying new missiles, “the size of the Russia missile force is shrinking due to arms control limitations and resource constraints.”

Unfortunately, the report does not clear up the mystery of how many warheads the SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24, Yars) missile carries. Initially we estimated thee because the throw-weight is similar to the U.S. Minuteman III ICBM. Then we considered six, but have recently settled on four, as the Strategic Rocket Forces commander has stated.

The report states that “Russia tested a new type of ICBM in 2012,” but it undercuts rumors that it not an ICBM by listing its range as 5,500+ kilometers. Moreover, in an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile, the report concludes: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

The report also describes how Russian designers are working to modify missiles to overcome U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. The SS-27 Mod 1 (Topol-M) deployed in silos at Tatishchevo was designed with countermeasures to ballistic missile systems, and Russian officials claim that a new class of hypersonic vehicle is being developed to overcome ballistic missile defense systems, according to NASIC.

The report also refers to Russian press report that a rail-mobile ICBM is being considered, and that a new “heavy” ICBM is under development.

One of the surprises in the report is that SS-N-32/Bulava-30 missile on the first Borei-class SSBN is not yet considered fully operational – at least not by NASIC. The report lists the missile as in development and “not yet deployed.”

Another interesting status is that while the AS-4 and AS-15 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles are listed as operational, the new Kh-102 nuclear cruise missile that Russian officials have said they’re introducing is not listed at all. The Kh-102 was also listed as already “fielded” by a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing.

Finally, while the report lists the SS-N-21 sea-launched cruise missile as operational, it does not mention the new Kalibr cruise missile for the Yasen-class attack submarine that U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command recently listed a having been “fielded” within the past five years.


The NASIC report states that the Chinese ballistic missile force is expanding both in size and types of missiles.

Deployment of the DF-31A (CSS-10 Mod 2) ICBM continues at a slow pace with “more than 15” launchers deployed six years after the system was first introduced.

Despite many rumors about a new DF-41 ICBM, the NASIC report does not mention this system at all.

Deployment of the shorter-range DF-31 (CSS-10 Mod 1) ICBM, on the contrary, appears to have stalled or paused, with only 5-10 launchers deployed seven years after it was initially introduced (see my recent analysis of this trend here). Moreover, the range of the DF-31 is lowered a bit, from 7,200+ km in the 2009 report to 7,000+ in the new version.

Medium-range nuclear missiles include the DF-21 (CSS-5) (in two versions: Mod 1 and Mod 2, but with identical range etc.) and the old DF-3A (CSS-2), which is still listed as deployed. Only 5-10 launchers are left, probably in a single brigade that will probably convert to DF-21 in the near future.

An important new development concerns conventional missiles, where the NASIC report states that several new systems have been introduced or are in development. This includes a “number of new mobile, conventionally armed MRBMs,” apparently in addition to the DF-21C and DF-21D already known. As for the DF-21D anti-ship missile, report states that “China has likely started to deploy” the missile but that it is “unknown” how many are deployed.

More dramatic is the development on five new short-range ballistic missiles, including the CSS-9, CSS-11, CSS-14, CSS-X-15, and CSS-X-16. The CSS-9 and CSS-14 come in different versions with different ranges. The CSS-11 Mod 1 is a modification of the existing DF-11, but with a range of over 800 kilometers (500 miles). None of these systems are listed as nuclear-capable.

Concerning sea-based nuclear forces, the NASIC report echoes the DOD report by saying that the JL-2 SLBM for the new Jin-class SSBN is not yet operational. The JL-2 is designated as CSS-NX-14, which I thought it was a typo in the 2009 report, as opposed to the CSS-NX-3 for the JL-1 (which is also not operational).

NASIC concludes that JL-2 “will, for the first time, allow Chinese SSBNs to target portions of the United States from operating areas located near the Chinese coast.” That is true for Guam and Alaska, but not for Hawaii and the continental United States. Moreover, like the DF-31, the JL-2 range estimate is lowered from 7,200+ km in the 2009 report to 7,000+ km in the new version. Earlier intelligence estimates had the range as high as 8,000+ km.

One of the surprises (perhaps) in the new report is that it does not list the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile, which was listed in the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing as a nuclear cruise missile that had been “fielded” within the past five years.

Concerning the overall size of the Chinese nuclear arsenal, there have been many rumors that it includes hundreds or even thousands of additional warheads more than the 250 we estimate. STRATCOM commander has also rejected these rumors. To that end, the NASIC report lists all Chinese nuclear missiles with one warhead each, despite widespread rumors in the news media and among some analysts that multiple warheads are deployed on some missiles.

Yet the report does echo a projection made by the annual DOD report, that “China may also be developing a new road-mobile ICBM capable of carrying a MIRV payload.” But NASIC does not confirm widespread news media rumors that this system is the DF-41 – in fact, the report doesn’t even mention the DF-41 as in development.

As for the future, the NASIC report repeats the often-heard prediction that “the number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 15 years.” This projection has continued to slip and NASIC slips it a bit further into the future to 2028.


Most of the information about the Pakistani system pretty much fits what we have been reporting. The only real surprise is that the Shaheen-II MRBM does still not appear to be fully deployed, even though the system has been flight tested six times since 2010. The report states that “this missile system probably will soon be deployed.”


The information on India also fits pretty well with what we have been reporting. For example, the report refers to the Indian government saying the Agni II IRBM has finally been deployed. But NASIC only lists “fewer than 10” Agni II launchers deployed, the first time I have seen a specific reference to how many of this system are deployed. The Agni III IRBM is said to be ready for deployment, but not yet deployed.

North Korea

The NASIC report lists the Hwasong-13 (KN-08), North Korea’s new mobile ICBM, but confirms that the missile has not yet been flight tested. It also lists an IRBM, but without naming it the Musudan.

The mysterious KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile that U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command recently listed as a new nuclear system expected within the next five years is not mentioned in the NASIC report.

Full NASIC report: Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2013

See also previous NASIC reports: 2009 | 2006 | 1998

This publication was made possible by grants from the New-Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

11 thoughts on “Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

  1. I have a few questions when it comes Chinese arsenal.

    Any reason why Chinese do not build more than few dozen new ICBM’s? Especially now when US is toying around with the ABM shield. And where have those 10 new warheads gone… a top of DF-31A’s?

    1. No one knows for sure with the Chinese arsenal. But China’s nuclear strategy does not seem to be focused on numbers but on ensuring a survivable retaliatory capability. So if they have a few dozen mobile launchers for solid-fuel ICBMs in addition to regional missiles, then they apparently have concluded that they have enough for deterrence to work. The new warheads are the new missiles being deployed (although the warheads are thought to be in storage and not mated with the missiles). But the warhead estimate is a net value that includes assumptions about warheads being retired as well as new ones being produced. One side of the equation are warheads for the DF-3A and DF-4 (and possibly soon the JL-1) being phased out; on the other side are warheads for DF-31/31A and JL-2 being phased in. A new uncertainty concerns cruise missiles and whether the DH-10 and/or CJ-20 have nuclear capability.

      Overall, the stockpile appears to be increasing at a very slow and modest rate. The U.S. Intelligence Community has been predicting 100 ICBM warheads in 15 years for the past 15 years. Twelve years after the first projection was made, China right now has less than 50 ICBM launchers that can target the continental United States. So that number would have to more than double for the current projection of “well over 100 in the next 15 years” to come true. If you include JL-2 in that projection, then it looks a little more realistic. But it still doesn’t get to 100+ warheads and the JL-2 cannot target the continental United States from Chinese waters.

  2. We Indians now have the capability to reach up till Europe and Australia. This is a superb achievement. We can truly dominate and coerce any state in the old continents now. We are en route to being a global military power soon

    1. Pakistan having nuclear only for peaceful purposes not like one of this comment above in which Indians always try to demonstrate themselves as a hegemonic power. This must be taken on a serious regards by the international community in which U.S broke the norms for India and give them favour and now they are having threatening comments from their strategic partner

      1. I agree that the U.S.-India nuclear deal was a major blow to the NPT regime, but any nuclear weapons state that attempts to label its own nuclear weapons as “peaceful” looses credibility. There is nothing “peaceful” about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons for the millions of civilians in India’s cities who are held at risk of annihilation. Nor is there anything “peaceful” about India’s nuclear weapons for the millions of civilians in Pakistan’s cities who are held at risk of annihilation. Even if a country insists that its nuclear weapons are only intended to prevent war, it cannot escape the fact that it would have to be capable and willing to unleash them over another country to be taken seriously. Fifteen years after Pakistan and India demonstrated their nuclear capabilities in the 1998 nuclear tests, both countries are increasing their nuclear arsenals quantitatively and qualitatively as if they have no idea of what constitutes sufficient deterrence. They are actively engaged in a full-fledge arms race with no end in sight but with potential horrific consequences if the “peaceful” forces are ever used.

  3. One thing is clear by such reports that USA and UK only spying other nation to overlook their nuclear posture. But has no audacity to be vocal on their nuclear programmes. USA is enhancing its strategic arsenals day by day as global hegemony is slipping out of her hand.

    If USA and international community desires for nuke free world then they must start that process from themselves. Because they were the first one to acquire that nukes.

    1. Like other nuclear weapon states, the United States and Britain monitor what other nuclear weapon states are doing; Russia is also spying on the United States, Britain, France and China; and China is spying on Russia and the United States. Everyone is in the business of spying on others and to some extent it actually serves an important and positive role: to avoid surprises that would trigger panic decisions that could make things even worse. All the nuclear weapon states – everyone of them – are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. There are significant differences in how each one is doing it, depending on history, size, technology, strategy and financial resources. But they’re all in the same business. Russia and the United States have a special responsibility because of their still enormous arsenals, but all nuclear weapon states have a responsibility to limit their nuclear forces. It is all too easy for the “small” nuclear weapon states to use the bigger nuclear weapon states as an excuse to modernize and increase their own arsenals. Russia and the United States will never agree to deep cuts in their arsenals if the “small” nuclear weapon states don’t limit the size and modernization of their arsenals as well.

  4. US intelligence services from very long are making such programs which include data collection, spying, facts and figures of other nations in competition; this report is also a part of that. Clearly, US will not publish any report showing their advancements in nuclear ballistic missiles field.

  5. I would like to know a bit more about China’s ability to develop MIRV-Technology. The NASIC 2013 report mentions only missiles that could carry MIRV. In 2001, General (ret.) Shalikashvili testified that “inability to test above detectable levels would impede future efforts to put multiple warheads on mobile missiles.” “Impede” can mean a lot from difficult to not possible (at least in the German translation). So I wonder about China’s ability to develop MIRV in the context of China’s CTBT signature. Has China the ability to develop MIRV by using experiments that are permitted under the CTBT (I know China has not ratified the CTBT yet…)?

    Thank you.

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