Latest Russian missiles may be included into New START

The New Start is a bilateral strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the United States which came into force on February 5, 2011. Several years ago, the USA doubted the necessity to extend it for five years, but now foreign observers changed their minds, the Military-Industrial Courier writes.

Latest Russian missiles may be included into New STARTRussian Navy first Project 885 Yasen-class submarine Severodvinsk (K-560) underway (Picture source: Russian MoD)

The treaty is in force until February 5, 2021. It limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. It also limits the number of deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800.

Leading western nuclear expert Hans Christensen said the US nuclear arsenal did not change as for early 2020 and the Department of Defense retained 3,800 warheads. 1,750 are deployed and 2,050 are stored. Close to 2,000 warheads are waiting to be scrapped. It makes a total of 5,800 nuclear warheads. 400 of the deployed 1,750 warheads are carried by ICBM and 900 are SLBM, 300 are on heavy bombers and 150 tactical bombs are kept in Europe.

The United States abides by START limitations. As for September 1, 2019, it had 668 deployed strategic launchers with 1,376 warheads which is less than 800 launchers with 1,550 warheads stipulated by the treaty. 132 launchers were not deployed. However, there is a small increase against 656 deployed strategic launchers with 1,365 warheads declared last March.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which determines the US nuclear arms policy said the country will increase the flexibility and range of deterrence options. The expansion of flexible variants of nuclear strikes, including low-yield nuclear munitions is important to maintain reliable deterrence against regional aggression, it said.

New capabilities are offered by a modification of a small number of available two-stage thermonuclear W76-1 warheads of 90 kilotons into single-stage warheads with a yield limited by five-seven kilotons. The NPR said the new W76-2 warhead is necessary to counter an erroneous perception by the adversary of weak regional deterrence capabilities of the United States. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said in December 2019 that a small-yield warhead on submarine-launched Trident missile was very stabilizing and did not support the concept of an early engagement of small-yield nuclear weapons. However, the NPR put it bluntly and said the munition is necessary for rapid reaction.

On January 29, 2020, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reported on W76-2. It said that in late 2019 the first warheads of the new type were delivered to Kings Bay naval base in Georgia. They were mounted on Trident-2 and loaded into the USS Tennessee (SSBN-734). The submarine also carries 16 Trident-2 missiles with four W76-0/Mk4 warheads and four missiles with one W76-2/Mk4A warhead each. The SSBN sailed out for combat duty in the Atlantic Ocean.

Christensen said Russia had 532 strategic carriers capable of delivering close to 2,100 nuclear warheads as for January 2020. In September 2019, Russia officially reported 513 deployed carriers with 1,426 nuclear warheads under the New START. The Strategic Missile Forces had 320 deployed missiles which can carry 1,181 warheads. The actual number of deployed warheads is likely to be less, as otherwise, Russia would have breached New START limits. The mentioned number includes 46 silos for R-36M2 ICBM, 45 mobile Topol-M ICBM, 60 silo-based and 18 mobile Topol-M launchers and 149 Yars RS-24 missiles.

The Russian Navy operates ten SSBN and nine carry missiles onboard. The submarines have a total of 144 ballistic missiles with 656 nuclear warheads. Six SSBN of project 667BDRM operate in the Northern fleet. They have 80 launchers for R-29RM (SS-N-23) missiles. One submarine is in an overhaul. Its missiles are not included into the total number. The Northern fleet also operates one project 955 submarine with 16 Bulava missiles. The Pacific fleet has project 667BDR submarine with 16 R-29R (SS-N-18) missiles and two project 955 submarines with 32 Bulava.

U.S. Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford told the international affairs committee of the Senate that Russia was designing nuclear weapon carriers that the United States does not have. Senators Bob Menendez, Todd Young and Chris Van Hollen requested National Intelligence Acting Director Joseph Maguire to assess the consequences of potential New Start termination in February 2021. They said the Russian nuclear arsenal will not be limited in any way if the New Start is not prolonged or replaced by another treaty. It will trigger negative short and long-term consequences for the United States.

The senators want to know which changes Russia can introduce into its nuclear forces in the short and long run and which conclusions will the Russian government and military make if Washington refuses to prolong the New Start. They are also interested how the situation will affect the Chinese nuclear doctrine and forces and the U.S.-Sino relations.

Two years ago, foreign experts dubbed the latest Russian arms as "Putin’s cartoons," but now they are truly scared. There are reasons for that, although the fears are exaggerated. Putin mentioned Tsirkon 3M22 hypersonic missile in his state-of-the-nation address in 2019. Its maximum range is over 1,000 kilometers and its speed is Mach 9. Tsirkon can destroy sea and ground targets. It is to be carried by warships and submarines. The universal seaborne vertical 3S-14 launcher unified for Kalibr and Onix missiles will fire Tsirkon. The missile has a launch and cruise flight stages.

Tsirkon carriers will most likely be project 885 SSGN (32 launchers), project 885M SSGN (32), project 949AM SSGN (72), the Admiral Nakhimov and the Petr Veliky nuclear cruisers of project 11442M (80 each). A maximum of a thousand missiles can be deployed. Naturally, they will be deployed in combination with Kalibr. In case of a US nuclear strike at Russia, Tsirkon will strike at important targets, including top command posts, the government command post, the presidential command and the command center of the joint chiefs-of-staff, strategic offensive and nuclear forces control post.

On March 1, 2018, Putin for the first time disclosed information about prospective unmanned 2M39 underwater craft. The project remains secret, but has been often mentioned by the media of late. Both anonymous sources and officials spoke about it. The two main carriers of the new weapon are the Belgorod nuclear submarine of project 09852 (a remake of project 949A) and the Khabarovsk submarine of new project 09851.

Pentagon experts believe the main aim is the destruction of U.S. SSBN and their bases. However, 2M39 is designed not only against coastal targets and warships in bases: it mostly creates a threat to surface warship formations in deployment areas and submarines in combat control zones.

The first regiment armed with the latest Avangard 15P771 strategic system (comprising UR-100NUTTKh ICBM and gliding reentry vehicle 15Yu71) went on combat duty on December 27, 2019. UR-100NUTTKh ICBM with a new reentry vehicle will be supplied to two regiments of the 13th division. Each will have six launchers. The division has two other regiments (18 launchers) of heavy Voevoda R-36M2 ICBM which are to be replaced by Sarmat RS-28 in 2022-2024. They will be also armed with Avangard. Avangard and Sarmat will replace Voevoda in the 62nd division with three regiments of 28 launchers.

All the latest Russian weapons can be easily classified and included into the New Start. Nuclear-powered cruise missiles can be listed as ICBM, the Belgorod and the Khabarovsk as SSGN, and 2M39 torpedoes as SLBM. The treaty does not strictly divide arms by classes and types like its predecessor SORT of 1979 did. The main thing is to observe the limits. Russian arms for the first time are superior to American weapons and it triggers US concern, the Military-Industrial Courier said.

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