In the article "Why does the US keep silo-based ICBMs?" We examined why the United States is deploying a significant portion of its strategic nuclear arsenal in highly secure silos, even though it has the most powerful fleet capable of securing nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).
At the end of the article, the author concluded that the United States has formed an extremely balanced and stable strategic nuclear forces (SNF). And in the American strategic nuclear forces, silo-based ICBMs are the most stable element, which the enemy can destroy only with the use of nuclear weapons.
To what extent are Russian strategic nuclear forces stable and balanced in this regard?
Russian strategic nuclear forces
The aviation component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces, like the aviation component of the American strategic nuclear forces, is a first-strike weapon.
Aircraft carriers - strategic missile-carrying missile bombers with cruise missiles (CR) with nuclear warheads (nuclear warheads) can effectively solve the problem of delivering strikes with conventional weapons. But as a means of nuclear deterrence, they are of little use - the enemy can easily destroy them with a sudden strike at airfields, shoot them down with fighters or anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) or carriers, or cruise missiles launched by them on the flight route. They can be destroyed by both nuclear and conventional weapons.
Russian strategic nuclear forces include 60 Tu-95MS (M) -type missile-carrying bombers and 17 Tu-160 (M) supersonic missile-carrying bombers capable of carrying about 500-800 missile-carrying nuclear warheads in aggregate. At the same time, according to the START-3 treaty, formally one bomber is counted as one nuclear warhead, that is, the aviation component “selects” 77 units from the permissible number of deployed charges.
The naval component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces is strategic missile cruisers (SSBNs).
Currently, it includes one Project 677BDR SSBN, four Project 677BDRM SSBNs and four Project 955 (A) SSBNs, which together can potentially carry about 1600 nuclear warheads (YABB), provided that 10 warheads are placed on one ballistic missile of submarines (SLBM). The actual number of nuclear warheads on SLBMs is limited by the START-3 treaty.
As the construction of Project 955 (A) SSBNs, which are planned to be put into service in the amount of 10-12 units, Project 677BDR / BDRM SSBNs will be gradually withdrawn from the fleet.
Thus, the potentially naval component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces will be able to carry 1920 nuclear warheads on 192 SLBMs. At the same time, the START-3 treaty limits the total number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 units, and the number of carriers is limited to 700 deployed and another 100 undeployed.
The Russian Strategic Forces (Strategic Missile Forces) have 320 carriers, which together carry 1181 YABB. Of these, 122 are mine-based. The core of the Strategic Missile Forces' nuclear arsenal is formed by the RS-24 Yars ICBMs of mine and mobile basing in the amount of 149 units, carrying 606 nuclear warheads. The RT-2PM / 2PM2 Topol / Topol-M ICBMs in the amount of 123 units, carrying monoblock warheads, are gradually planned to be decommissioned, replacing them with Yarsy or an ICBM that will replace it.Heavy ICBMs R-36M / R-36M2 in the amount of 46 units, carrying 460 YABB, will be gradually decommissioned, they will be replaced by ICBMs of a comparable class "Sarmat". A similar fate will befall the two remaining UR-100N UTTH ICBMs, carrying the Avangard hypersonic gliding warhead.
Are Russian strategic nuclear forces balanced?
From the point of view of nuclear deterrence, as in the case of the American strategic nuclear forces, strategic aviation can be taken out of the brackets, since this is a first strike weapon - it is almost impossible to protect bombers from a sudden disarming strike. Conventionally, the bombers will take over about 100 nuclear warheads allowed for deployment under the START-3 treaty.
A much bigger question is caused by a strong bias towards the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces. Unlike the arsenal of the Strategic Missile Forces, located in the depths of their territory, SSBNs on combat patrol are in international waters, where the enemy has the formal right to detect and track them. The ability of the Russian fleet to ensure the protection of SSBNs even in the so-called "bastions" is in question. While in the base, SSBNs are even more vulnerable - to destroy them, the enemy will need several dozen non-nuclear high-precision ammunition and less than five minutes of time.
Subject to the construction of 12 Project 955A SSBNs, even if three nuclear submarines are deployed on one SLBM, in total they will have 432 nuclear submarines (rounded up to 450 nuclear submarines).
As for the Strategic Missile Forces, the question first of all arises with regard to heavy delivery vehicles.
On the one hand, the ability to throw 10 or even 15 nuclear submarines across the South Pole, coupled with a set of missile defense penetration means, is wonderful.
But, on the other hand, 50 Sarmat-type ICBMs with 10-15 YABB are 500-750 YABB. No matter how well the silo launchers (silos) of heavy missiles are protected, they will be target number 1 for the enemy. in silos. Thus, they "exchange" 150-200 of their YABB for 500-750 of ours.
Not a very equal exchange, is it?
Another option is to place on heavy ICBMs hypersonic guided warheads (GUBB) of the Avangard type, three units per ICBM, that is, a total of 150 warheads.
If the RVSE retains about 300 light ICBMs placed in silos and on mobile ground missile systems (PGRK), with three nuclear warheads on each, of the Yars type, then this is another 900 nuclear ballistic missiles. ICBMs in silos are practically guaranteed to be protected from conventional weapons, while for their destruction, it is highly likely that two enemy nuclear warheads will be required. The exchange of two enemy nuclear ballistic missiles for 3 of ours is no longer as bad as in the case of heavy ICBMs, but still we lose in the overall standings.
The situation with the PGRK is more complicated.
When located at the base of the PGRK, they are practically as vulnerable as the SSBNs in the base - the only difference is in the greater flight distance for the enemy's nuclear warheads. PGRK can be destroyed by both nuclear and conventional weapons. The security of the PGRK on the route, based on its secrecy, is under a big question - in the foreseeable future there will be no places on the planet that are not monitored from space 24/365.
Summarizing the existing and potential capabilities of SB, SSBN, PGRK and ICBM in silos, in aggregate it turns out that we can deploy about 3,600 YaBB, which is twice the limits of the START-3 treaty. On the one hand, this is good, since YAB can be partially deployed, thereby providing the possibility of a sharp increase in the potential of strategic nuclear forces in the event of complications in relations. On the other hand, the stability of strategic nuclear forces against a sudden disarming strike is more important for us. For example, in the event of the destruction of the entire naval component of the strategic nuclear forces, it will not matter to us: deployed on it 432 YAB or 1920 YAB. Perhaps the second option is even worse.
US nuclear weapons expenditures for the destruction of the Russian strategic nuclear forces
It can be assumed that, given the importance of the task at hand, if the United States decides to deliver a sudden disarming strike, it will not save money and will use nuclear warheads to destroy all Russian components of strategic nuclear forces together with conventional weapons.
To defeat the Russian strategic nuclear forces, the enemy will need
- On 12 SSBNs, of which 6 will be at the base, the enemy will spend 6–12 nuclear submarines plus torpedoes, possibly with tactical nuclear warheads. As a result, we have a loss of 432-1920 YAB; This can also include the "Poseidons" and their carriers, since as targets they do not differ at all from SSBNs.
- The enemy will spend 4–8 nuclear weapons on SB at two air bases. As a result, we have a loss of 500-800 missile launchers with nuclear warheads (this is not so critical, since under the START treaty it is still about 100 nuclear warheads).
- The enemy will spend 150-200 nuclear warheads to destroy heavy ICBMs in highly protected silos. As a result, we have a loss of 150-750 YAB.
- On 75 PGRK in the base, the enemy will spend 8-16 YaBB. As a result, we have a loss of 225 YaBB.
- On 75 PGRK on the route, the enemy will spend 75 YABB. As a result, we have a loss of 225 YaBB.
- On 150 light ICBMs in silos, the enemy will spend 300 YABB. As a result, we have a loss of 450 YaBB.
In total, for the destruction of all Russian strategic nuclear forces, the United States should spend about 500-600 nuclear warheads out of 1550 operatively deployed, plus a certain amount of high-precision weapons, of which they have a lot.
Such a number of nuclear submarines can be deployed on three or four Ohio-class SSBNs. The minimum launch range of the Trident II (D5) SLBM is 2300 kilometers or 5.5 minutes of flight time. To increase launch density, the United States may use eight SSBNs in combination with promising hypersonic precision missiles launched from Virginia Block V nuclear-powered submarines, surface ships, strategic aircraft, and ground launchers. Potentially, two British Vanguard-class SSBNs with the same Trident II (D5) SLBMs can be added to them.
If Russian SSBNs are tracked on combat patrol routes, they, like SSBNs stationed at the base, will be destroyed in an even shorter period of time.
Yes, it is possible that some of the ICBMs will not be destroyed and will be able to launch, but for this the United States is deploying and improving the missile defense system, the process of formation and prospects of which were considered in the articles:
- Decline of the nuclear triad. Cold War missile defense and Star Wars;
- Decline of the nuclear triad. US missile defense: present and near future;
- Decline of the nuclear triad. US missile defense post 2030: intercept thousands of warheads.
It can be concluded that the Russian strategic nuclear forces have a high offensive potential, which, if necessary, can be additionally strengthened, but at the same time their resistance to a sudden disarming attack by the enemy may be insufficient.
When delivering a sudden disarming strike, the United States will spend about one third of its operatively deployed nuclear warheads, which will allow them to dictate the terms of a “disarmed” Russia after the strike, and not to fear a stab in the back from the PRC. Taking into account the NATO allies, primarily Great Britain, the capabilities of the United States are becoming even higher.
Often, in the comments to articles on the stability of strategic nuclear forces to a sudden disarming strike, one can see remarks like “by the time the enemy’s nuclear weapons fall, our mines will be empty”. This is true only with a strike from a maximum distance of 8-10 thousand kilometers, when the launch is detected in advance by the missile attack warning system (EWS) and the country's top leadership will have about 20-30 minutes to make a decision about the beginning of the end of the world. When hitting from a distance of about two to three thousand kilometers, the time for passing the entire chain of information and making a decision will be 5-10 minutes, after which it will be too late.
The "Perimeter" or "Dead Hand" system, even if it functions, will not help - it protects against the destruction of the country's top leadership, that is, from a "decapitating" strike, but not from a "disarming" strike, when there is already nothing to give the command to start.
Strategic nuclear forces resistant to a sudden disarming strike
What should be the strategic nuclear forces that are maximally resistant to a sudden disarming strike?
Two theses can be formulated:
1. Most of the carriers of nuclear weapons of the Russian strategic nuclear forces must be guaranteed to be protected from all types of conventional weapons.
2. The expenditure of enemy nuclear warheads for the destruction of carriers of nuclear weapons of the Russian strategic nuclear forces must be greater than or equal to the number of nuclear warheads of the Russian strategic nuclear forces destroyed by it.
What is fully protected from conventional weapons and is comparable to the number of spent / destroyed nuclear warheads?
The answer is light ICBMs in silos
Based on this, the structure of promising strategic nuclear forces will look like this:
Strategic aviation will retain its position, since abandoning it precisely as carriers of nuclear weapons is unprofitable due to the terms of the START-3 treaty - for 100 nuclear submarines counted, SB can carry about 500-800 CD with nuclear warheads. In addition, during the threatened period, SB can be dispersed, which will significantly increase their survival rate. Well, do not forget about the offensive capabilities of strategic aviation, and most importantly, the possibility of effective use in non-nuclear conflicts, which will be the main one for the Security Council.
In the article Evolution of the Nuclear Triad: Prospects for the Development of the Aviation Component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces of the Russian Federation, the possibility of building missile carriers based on transport aircraft and even air-based ICBMs for them was considered, but this direction will clearly not have a priority for the strategic nuclear forces. Rather, it will be useful for delivering massive conventional weapons strikes as an element of strategic conventional forces (SCS).
The conclusions made earlier by the author in the article Evolution of the nuclear triad: the prospects for the development of the ground component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces can be slightly corrected.
PGRK must be abandoned completely.
We are not China, and we cannot build thousands of kilometers of tunnels for them, hiding them from satellites and conventional weapons. Their vulnerability in their places of basing is maximal, and in them they will spend half of the time, if not more. To create a PGRK disguised as trucks and buses means putting the city with civilians at risk of the first strike. Yes, and there will still be no guarantees of the secrecy of such PGRK. For the same reason, there is no point in reviving the BZHRK theme.
The big question is the need for heavy ICBMs - they are too attractive a target for the enemy, it is extremely tempting to destroy 10-15 YABB, spending 3-4 of our own. Perhaps more optimal will be the placement of three "Vanguards" instead of 10-15 "usual" YABB.
However, according to the author, hypersonic gliding warheads (GPBB) are much more promising when used with a non-nuclear warhead. At the same time, it is better to abandon the GPBB in nuclear equipment in principle, in order not to create the risk of an accidental start of a nuclear war due to similar flight paths of the GPBB in nuclear and non-nuclear equipment. In other words: either heavy ICBMs with Avangards, or abandoning heavy ICBMs in principle.
With regard to the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces, it is also necessary to make adjustments - the number of SSBNs of project 955 (A) must be limited at the level of products already built and under construction, that is, eight units.
Others or build as carriers of cruise and anti-ship missiles under the conditional project 955K, or as multipurpose submarines of the conditional project 955M. Eight Project 955 (A) SSBNs are up to 1280 YaBB, much more than our Navy can now "digest".
The main stake in the Russian strategic nuclear forces should be placed on light silo-based ICBMs. For this, both ICBMs and silos must be produced in the form of high-prefabricated products
The number of ICBMs in silos should be at least half of the enemy's operationally deployed nuclear warheads, with the prospect of further increasing the ratio in their favor (up to a certain limit). In this case, the number of silos, if possible, should exceed the number of deployed ICBMs by 2-3 times.
The distance between silos should exclude the possibility of hitting them with one YAB. Unlike SSBN, SB, PGRK or BRZhK, we can say that silo is an exceptional long-term investment. In addition, silos require much less funds to maintain them on alert than SSBNs, SB, PGRK or BRZhK - no fuel loading / unloading, crew change, etc. are required.
Between silos, rotation of ICBMs can be carried out under the cover of smoke screens or quickly deployed shelters, to hide the true location of ICBMs in a particular silo. Also, the "empty" silos can accommodate anti-missile launchers in containers that are visually indistinguishable from ICBM containers.
To heighten the misleading of the enemy and deceive the homing heads of high-precision weapons, in addition to the redundant mines, imitators of silo covers should be installed.
Now the Strategic Missile Forces have 122 active silos. It is quite possible that there is still a certain amount of silos that can be restored, bringing their number to 150-200. By assembling 50 silos of high factory readiness with light ICBMs per year, we will receive 650–700 silos with ICBMs in 10 years and 1150–1200 silos with ICBMs in 20 years.
Accordingly, at the initial stage, ICBMs will house three nuclear weapons, and in the future, as the number of ICBMs in silos increases, the number of nuclear weapons on them can be reduced to two or even one. Thus, light ICBMs will carry about 1200 nuclear warheads, with a recoverable potential to accommodate another 650-2400 nuclear warheads.
Another 100 nuclear charges will be counted for strategic aviation. At the same time, the potential of strategic aviation will make it possible to strike about 500-800 missile launchers with nuclear warheads.
The share of SSBNs under the current START-3 treaty will remain 250 nuclear weapons. If we are talking about eight Project 955 (A) SSBNs, then when two nuclear submarines are deployed on one SLBM, it will just turn out to be 256 nuclear submarines. The reentry potential of the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces will amount to another 1,024 nuclear warheads.
Considering that light ICBMs in silos will not be built "instantly", for some period more nuclear submarines will have to be installed on SLBMs to compensate for the outgoing heavy ICBMs, which will lead to a temporary bias towards the sea component of the strategic nuclear forces.
The above composition of promising strategic nuclear forces largely correlates with the one discussed earlier in the article Evolution of the nuclear triad: generalized composition of the Russian strategic nuclear forces in the medium term.
How objective is the stake on light ICBMs in silos?
Just the other day, it became known about the construction in the PRC of a new positioning area for ICBMs in silos. It is assumed that about 119 ICBMs will be built in silos and false silos.
The construction concept is very similar to the one that was outlined in the series of articles "Evolution of the nuclear triad" - the construction of silo-based ICBMs in the "square-nested" way.
Not that the author claimed that the Chinese "borrowed the idea" from the pages of the Military Review, but who knows? If next year they "sow" another area in this way, then the bet on light ICBMs in silos is really used by the PRC and is justified.
At the same time, it should be borne in mind that China is not bound by any agreements, and its financial and production capabilities significantly exceed Russian ones, so it can build up all types of strategic nuclear forces at the same time.
Tasks of Strategic Nuclear Forces Components
Strategic aviation is primarily the use of long-range conventional weapons as carriers. As an element of the nuclear triad - the delivery of nuclear strikes in limited conflicts, dispersal during a threatened period as a signal to the enemy that his plans have been revealed and that countermeasures are being prepared.
Light ICBMs in silos - they will bear the brunt of nuclear deterrence.It is not yet possible to destroy them with conventional long-range weapons. If the enemy tries to destroy them with nuclear weapons, to ensure a high probability of hitting YABB, more will be required than the START-3 treaty allows. The enemy withdraws from the START-3 treaty and begins the deployment of additional warheads from warehouse storage - instead of one nuclear warhead, we are installing three on ICBMs, accelerating the production of ICBMs for "empty" mines.
The naval component of the strategic nuclear forces - as the severity of nuclear deterrence passes to light ICBMs in silos, and the number of nuclear submarines on SSBNs decreases, they will be able to leave the "bastions" and advance to the shores of a potential enemy. For this, the tactics of firing SLBMs at a minimum distance, with a short flight time, must be worked out.
The task of SSBNs is to turn the situation upside down - let the United States wonder if we are preparing to deliver a sudden disarming strike on their ICBMs in silos and strategic aviation air bases? Have we uncovered the location of their SSBNs?
The resources currently required for the protection of the "bastions" can be released and redirected to the solution of other tasks of the fleet.
After obsolescence and decommissioning of Project 955 (A) SSBNs, they should be replaced by promising multipurpose submarines capable of carrying four to six SLBMs in universal weapon bays in total with 24-60 nuclear submarines, which will solve this problem much more efficiently than massive specialized SSBNs …
It is characteristic that the proposed concept of the Russian strategic nuclear forces is in many respects similar in structure to the American strategic nuclear forces, which the author considers the most balanced. The only differences are in the quantitative distribution of YBB carriers.
The proposed concept of building Russian strategic nuclear forces is logical, realistic and feasible. For the most part, it is based on already proven solutions. There is a possibility that it is already being implemented in the PRC.
Reducing the range and type of nuclear deterrent - PGRK, BZHRK, heavy ICBMs, various "Petrel", "Avangard" and "Poseidon" Silos.
To destroy the Russian SNF based on light ICBMs in silos with an acceptable, but far from 100% probability, the enemy will need more nuclear warheads than he has.
There is a possibility that a massive attack on the "fields" of ICBMs in silos is impossible in principle, since the first exploding nuclear charges will damage or deflect those following. The use of anti-missile defense systems and active defense systems (KAZ) silos of the "Mozyr" type will further enhance the security of silos.
Focusing on light ICBMs in silos will radically reduce the operating costs of strategic nuclear forces, since silos have an exceptionally long service life and low operating costs. Stability of storage conditions - the absence of shocks, vibrations, temperature changes and other negative factors of influence also positively affects the service life of ICBMs in silos.
Reducing the relative share of the maritime component will make it possible to abandon the maintenance of SSBNs in the "bastions" and use them to put pressure on the enemy with the threat of a sudden disarming / decapitating strike, forcing him to spend resources on strengthening defensive capabilities, and not on preparing for an attack on the Russian Federation. It will also force a potential adversary to be more enthusiastic about concluding, adhering to and extending strategic offensive arms limitation treaties.