Russia's missile forces: lower quantity but higher quality


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosty military commentator Viktor Litovkin)

The recent news conference given by Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces (RSMF), did not cause a sensation. Specialists and experts on the Missile Forces heard only one piece of new information from the general.

This was the news that the command of the RSMF will, of course, react if Russia decides to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in reaction to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic. It is as ready to assume command of the medium range missiles now as it was before the INF treaty came into force, and there is a possibility that the missiles will be aimed at U.S. targets in Eastern Europe.

"At present nothing is deployed there", Solovtsov said. "But if Poland and the Czech Republic decide to change that, the Russian Strategic Missile Force will be able to consider these objects as targets." Asked by RIA Novosti about the Russian defense industry's ability to produce such missiles in sufficient number, the general said: "After the elimination of medium-range missiles, the designs and technology remained. It will not be difficult to resume production, but it will be with new technology, a new element base, and new guidance systems."

These statements can hardly be called a sensation after the recent statements about Russia's possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty made by President Vladimir Putin, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But one thing was hard to ignore amid all the talk about American missiles and radars.

Gen. Solovtsov said that this year, two regiments of Topol RS-12M ground-based missile systems in the Kannskaya missile division (which has sixteen launchers for SS-25 Sickle missiles) will be trimmed down, along with a missile regiment in the Kozelskaya division, stationed in the Kaluga Region. There are six regiments of UR-100 NUTTKh silo-based missile systems on combat duty (with 60 SS-19 Stiletto missile launchers capable of carrying six independently targetable nuclear warheads, each with a 750 kiloton yield). One regiment consisting of 10 missiles will be disbanded by the end of the year.

Will the planned reduction in the number of these missiles, as well as further reductions in other strategic missile systems, impair Russia's security? The commander of the RSMF answered unequivocally: "No." These reductions are part of Russia's obligations under the START-1 and SORT treaties. Under the latter, Moscow and Washington will reduce their respective number of nuclear warheads on existing missile systems to 1700-2200 by December 31, 2012. "And this will be accomplished," Gen. Solovtsov said. "Our missiles have many more warheads than that," he added. He did not specify the number, but according to publicly available sources, at the end of 2006 Russia had 762 strategic systems capable of carrying 3373 nuclear warheads. The RSMF alone has 503 strategic systems and 1853 warheads.

Russia's former defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, said at the State Duma on February 7 that the Russian Army will get 17 new strategic missile systems this year. As Gen. Solovtsov said at his news conference, the first division, armed with the ground-based Topol-M missile system consisting of three launch vehicles and one control vehicle, will be enlarged to a regiment with three more launchers. It is therefore clear that the rest of the missile systems will be both silo- and, probably, ground-based, but they will consist only of Topol-M missiles.

Gen. Solovtsov added that by 2016-2018, Topol-M missile systems, both in silos and ground-based, will constitute the backbone of the RSMF. Ivanov said that by 2015, 34 more silo-based missile systems (at present there are 42) and 66 ground-based systems will be supplied to the Armed Forces, bringing the total number of Topol-M missiles systems to nearly 150.

Today, both ground- and silo-based Topol-M missile systems have only one warhead. After 2009, when the START-1 treaty's restrictions on the deployment of ground-based missile systems with MIRVed warheads are lifted, there is a possibility that the new Topol missiles will carry those multiple warheads. Otherwise, Russia won't be able to fulfill its obligations under the SORT treaty.

Though Gen. Solovtsov's news conference caused no sensation, a careful analysis shows that it unveils the prospects for the development of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces. Russia will have fewer missiles than today, but its missiles will be of a higher quality, capable of penetrating both existing and future missile defense systems.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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