The commander in chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, told a Moscow press conference yesterday that the combat capability of his troops remained at a high level. They had had even, he said, increased their "combat efficiency" by 15 to 20 percent during the past year. Some of the details he revealed, however, indicated serious problems. He admitted, for instance, that between 60 and 80 percent of the missiles and equipment in the SRF had exceeded their designed operational lives.
Yakovlev placed great hopes on the new Topol-M ICBM. Two of these new missiles were placed on alert in December. The first complete regiment is due to come on line later this year. Yakovlev said that 3.7 billion rubles would be required to finish this building program, He optimistically predicted that as many as 100 new missiles would be built each year. Others have suggested that an earlier plan to build thirty new missiles per year was impossible and have estimated that no more than fifteen could be produced annually through 2004. (RIA-Novosti, December 18, 1997) There are also those in the State Duma who are not as happy with the single-warhead Topol-M as is Yakovlev. Retired general Albert Makashov has called it "a piece of junk!" (Argumenty i fakty, November 1997).
Yakovlev also indicated that the SRF would continue to shrink, and end up with a smaller share of Russia’s strategic deterrent than it now has. He said that a further 30,000 officers and men would be cut. Should Russia and the United States finally pare their strategic nuclear forces to the 1,500 to 2,000 warheads predicted for START III, the SRF would field from 33 to 40 percent of this force rather than its present 60 percent share.
Given the growing obsolescence of his present force and the very limited procurement funds, Yakovlev stressed that there was "no alternative to ratification of START II." There are probably few in the Duma who would agree with him. START II has not been a popular issue with most deputies to start with. Ryzhkov’s remarks yesterday (see above item) indicated that — in the Iraq crisis — Russian lawmakers have found one more reason to oppose the treaty. (Russian media, February 19)
Moscow Advances Demand for Radar Lease Extension.