Part I. Land component
Nine countries have nuclear weapons (NW): the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China legally, and India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea illegally: the first three did not sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and North Korea withdrew from it … The arsenals of Russia and the United States, despite significant reductions, are overwhelmingly superior to the rest. When discussing the current and future nuclear arsenals of these countries, one cannot but consider briefly the terms of the START-3 treaty, since it largely determines their form.
The START-3 treaty was signed in April 2010 and entered into force in February 2011. The term of the current treaty is limited to February 2021, but it is envisaged to extend it, by mutual agreement, for another five years. A careful discussion of the prospects for treaties in the field of the reduction of offensive arms is under way, but it will be hampered by reasons of both subjective (deterioration of relations) and an objective nature - for example, further reductions increase the role of tactical nuclear weapons, on which there are no clear agreements, other countries of the nuclear club, which will have to connect to the negotiation process; the role of missile defense and promising non-nuclear high-precision weapons is growing. On a positive note, the discussion on the extension of the current START-3 treaty has begun.
The goal of START-3 is to reach the following levels by February 2018:
- 700 deployed carriers, that is, the total deployed land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and strategic bombers;
- 800 media, including non-deployed, that is, stored or intended for testing;
- 1,550 warheads, including warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs and bombers. The latter are taken into account not only as one carrier, but also as one charge.
At the moment, according to the data published as of March 1, 2016, the parties are close to the required indicators, and in some places they have already reached them. Thus, the number of deployed carriers in Russia is 521, and the number of warheads in the United States is 1481. Paradoxically, since September 2013, the number of warheads in the Russian arsenal has been growing almost continuously - this fact is explained by the fact that new missile systems equipped with shared by a warhead with individual guidance units (MIRV IN), ahead of the decommissioning of old monoblock ones. To reach the restrictions laid down in START-3, the domestic military will have to complete the renewal of the arsenal in a year and a half (this process in our tradition is almost continuous), then to carry out active work on the removal of obsolete complexes from service, while providing them with a worthy replacement …
Traditionally, the basis of the domestic SNF is the Strategic Missile Forces (Strategic Missile Forces) - the ground component of the nuclear triad. The importance of the Strategic Missile Forces is emphasized by the fact that it is a separate branch of the military, subordinate directly to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. In addition, they are the first and most successful upgrade.
The sword that brings peace
Accurate data on the composition of the Strategic Missile Forces in Russia are not published, but the region is relatively widely covered in the media, and on the basis of open domestic and foreign publications, general conclusions can be drawn.
The Strategic Missile Forces are armed with land-based ICBMs installed in silo launchers (silos) and on mobile ground-based missile systems (PGRK) - the latter are slightly more. Both options are different answers to the question of maximum survivability in an attack and, as a consequence, ensuring a retaliatory strike, the inevitable threat of which is the basis of the entire concept of nuclear deterrence. A modern silo has the highest security, and, given their location at a distance from each other, the enemy will have to spend on each of the warheads, and to guarantee (technical failure of the attacking ICBM or a significant miss) - perhaps several. Operating a missile silo is relatively simple and cheap. The disadvantage is that the coordinates of all silos are probably known to the enemy and they are potentially vulnerable to high-precision non-nuclear weapons. However, this problem is still relevant for a relatively distant future, since modern strategic cruise missiles have a subsonic speed and it is almost impossible to suddenly hit all silos with them.
PGRK, on the contrary, are supposed to survive not for stability, but for mobility - being dispersed in a threatening period, they become hardly vulnerable to pinpoint strikes, and they can be effectively dealt with by massed strikes on the basing areas, preferably with high-power charges. The resistance of the mobile platform to the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion is much lower than that of the mine, but even in this case, in order to reliably defeat them, the enemy will have to spend a large number of its warheads.
Above, we considered the worst case. The optimal one is not a retaliatory, but a counter strike, in which the missiles of the attacked side will have time to take off before the enemy warheads fall on the basing areas. Ensuring this is a matter of missile attack warning systems, strategic nuclear forces control systems and the efficiency of their use, which is a separate big topic.
From 1987 to 2005, a small number of Molodets combat railway missile systems (BZHRK) were in limited operation in Russia (12 trains were produced, three launchers in each) - the only BZHRK brought to serial production and alert duty. From a tactical point of view, BZHRK can be considered a special case of PGRK: the main difference is the use of an extended network of railways for dispersal during a threatening period. On the one hand, this provides high mobility, on the other hand, the use of civilian infrastructure complicates security issues and, to a certain extent, “exposes” large transport hubs to the first blow, i.e. cities. The issue of visibility for reconnaissance assets is also painful, since, once discovered, it is no longer easy for a train to hide again - for obvious reasons.
A new BZHRK "Barguzin" is at the design stage. The use of smaller missiles will reduce the mass, which will increase stealth - unlike the Molodets, it will not need three diesel locomotives at once. However, the prospects for Barguzin are still unclear, as the operational difficulties and large costs are subject to criticism, including from the customer, in the face of budget cuts, with disputed advantages over the widely used wheeled PGRK.
They are now the basis of the Strategic Missile Forces, namely the vast family of Topol ICBMs: RS-12M Topol, RS-12M2 Topol-M and RS-24 Yars. The original "Topoli" began to take up combat duty in 1985 and are now being removed from service. It is planned to end this process at the beginning of the next decade. Rocket launches are carried out on a regular basis, both to confirm the health of the fleet and to test new technical solutions (given that they are still planned to be destroyed, the flying laboratory in this situation gets "for nothing"). According to various estimates, from 54 to 72 such PGRK remain in service: given the continuous process of the Topol's transition to non-deployed ones and subsequent disposal, it is difficult to accurately determine their number at a specific point in time.
The RS-12M2 Topol-M complexes (beginning of deployment - 2006) and RS-24 "Yars" (beginning of deployment - 2010) are the development of the Topol with an improved missile. Due to the slightly increased mass, the number of axles increased from seven to eight. Topol-M and Yars are close to each other - the most important is the difference in combat equipment. While the Topol-M, like the original Topol, is equipped with one 550 kT warhead, the Yars is equipped with a MIRV with three or four blocks of 150–300 kT each (according to various estimates). The use of one warhead on the Topol-M is due to the fact that it was created taking into account the requirements of START-2, which prohibited complexes with MIRVs. After the failure of START-2, it was rapidly modernized due to the laid down technical reserve.
Before the transition to Yarsy, only 18 units of the Topol-M PGRK were deployed. However, its rocket was widely used (60 units were delivered) since 1998 to replace the UR-100N UTTKh (RS-18A) ICBMs, with an exhausted service life, in silos. "Yarsov" is deployed in a mobile version of at least 63. In addition, they are used for the ongoing replacement of the UR-100N in silos - there are at least 10 of them.
The PGRK RS-26 "Rubezh" is being created with a small-sized rocket and a six-axle chassis. Smaller dimensions will drastically increase the complex's maneuverability, since the Yars are still too big for ordinary roads. The Rubezh is said to be ready for deployment, but it may be limited to political issues, since, according to the US, it can be used against targets at a range significantly less than 5,500 km, and this violates the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.
In addition to the "Topol-M" and "Yarsov", there are also exclusively mine-based ICBMs in service. The UR-100N UTTH, which went on duty in 1979, are almost decommissioned - no more than 20-30 units remain, and this process will be completed in the next two to three years. The R-36M2 Voevoda (RS-20V, better known by the sonorous American name SS-18 "Satan") - the largest ICBM in the world, together with a powerful missile defense penetration complex carrying either a combat unit with a capacity of 8, 3 MT, or ten light warheads of 800 kT each. R-36M2 went on alert in 1988. At the moment, 46 missiles of this type remain in service. At the beginning of the next decade, they should be replaced by the promising heavy RS-28 "Sarmat", also capable of carrying at least eight warheads, including promising maneuvering ones.
In Russia, the Strategic Missile Forces are the most important part of the strategic nuclear forces. PGRKs, which have high stability, are increasingly becoming a priority in equipment, but silos are also retained - as an economical option and as a means of placing missiles of especially high power. In the Strategic Missile Forces, not only is there a larger number of carriers than in the Navy, but they also carry a larger number of warheads. At the same time, the Strategic Missile Forces are successfully saturated with new equipment and, as far as can be judged, they are successfully mastering it in numerous exercises.
In the Navy, the development of new SLBMs and SSBNs seems to be accompanied by problems and delays. The submarine fleet continues to pursue the traditional disease of the Soviet Navy - a low float coefficient (percentage of time spent at sea). In combination with the reduction in the number of personnel, this leads to the fact that one or two SSBNs are on patrol at the same time, which is incomparable with the many dozens of PGRK and silos that are in readiness.
In the United States, the overland portion of the triad is, in contrast to ours, the weakest component. This is also manifested in the fact that mine-based land ICBMs are located in the structure of the Air Force - the Global Strike Command has the so-called 20th Air Force, which includes, respectively, the Missile Squadrons (literally Missile Squadron), united in Rocket Wings.
The US Armed Forces are armed with the only type of ICBM, the LGM-30G "Minuteman III". The first Minuteman IIIs were on duty back in 1970 and for their time became a revolutionary breakthrough - they first used the MIRV IN. Of course, since then a number of modernization programs have gone through, primarily aimed at increasing the reliability and safety of operation. One of the most serious "improvements" deprived the Minuteman III of the MIRV - instead of three 350 kT warheads, one 300 kT was installed. Officially, by this action, the United States demonstrated the defensive nature of its nuclear weapons - first of all, MIRVs are useful in delivering a first strike, when one of its carriers can destroy several enemy ones. However, the real reason, probably, was primarily in optimizing the distribution of the "pool" available in START III: without these measures, it would be necessary to cut the "sacred" - SSBNs and Trident II missiles.
The "new" warheads have been removed from the LGM-118 Peacekeeper - significantly newer (deployment commenced 1986) and advanced ICBMs. Each "Peacemaker" could deliver not three, but ten warheads with greater accuracy and a slightly longer range. He was deservedly considered the American counterpart of the Soviet "Satan". However, difficulties in the creation and the end of the Cold War led to the fact that Peacekeeper was released in a rather small batch - only 50 were put on duty. For the same reasons, the American programs for the creation of PGRK and BZHRK were not implemented. In the late 1980s, largely under the influence of Soviet developments, BRZhK with Peacekeeper missiles and PGRK with a new small-sized MGM-134 Midgetman missile were in the active phase of development. Both programs were closed in 1991-1992, during the prototype testing phase. The Peacekeeper itself was decommissioned in 2005 as part of START II compliance measures.
By 2018, the United States plans to keep the 400 Minuteman III in service. To fulfill this condition, 50 units will be transferred to "non-deployed" - missiles were sent to the warehouse, and silos filled up. Thus, land ICBMs occupy a significant share (more than half) in the carrier pool, while no one plans to increase the number of SSBNs and bombers. However, at the same time, the naval component has more than twice as many warheads.
The United States sees the main task of the ground component in the new conditions in "creating a threat" - in order to reliably defeat silos, the enemy will be forced to spend even more warheads than they contain in total. With this approach, the requirements for missiles are low - the main thing is that the enemy believes that they are capable of taking off. However, even this may sooner or later become too difficult for Minuteman III. Their replacement program is called Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The possibility of creating a PGRK or BRZhK was assessed, but in the end they settled on the cheapest and simplest placement in silos. Active funding for the creation of GBSD began in 2016. The cost of creating, producing and modernizing the ground infrastructure is estimated at $ 62.3 billion, spread over three decades. According to plans, the first "squadron" GBSD will go on duty in 2029, and completely replace the Minuteman III by 2036, but most defense programs are characterized by delays.
However, it is unlikely that GBSD will be implemented in full - with the conclusion of further agreements in the field of nuclear weapons reduction, the American land component will be the first in line for reductions. And now, with the relatively comfortable START-3 format, proposals are being heard to reduce the share of the ground component or even completely abandon it in favor of more stable SSBNs and multi-tasking bombers.