Moscow Discusses the Future Development of ICBM’s

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 9

The ruling United Russia faction has revealed in the Duma the amendments it will attach to the new START III arms control treaty. The ratification draft will contain several points that mimic two US Senate non-binding resolutions approved together with the ratified treaty, requiring the spending of $85 billion over ten years to modernize the US nuclear arsenal and a pledge to continue unrestricted development of ballistic missile defense (BMD). The Duma draft is lengthy, but not precise: it demands the “upholding of Russia’s strategic nuclear potential on a level, sufficient for safeguarding national security,” calls for the “development, testing, production and deployment of new strategic offensive weapons, capable of penetrating BMD.” The resolution further demands that any new types of US long-range weapons that may be developed for possible “global” conventional attacks against extremists, must be limited as in accordance with the new treaty. The draft resolution threatens a Russian unilateral withdraw from START III if a strategic BMD undermines Russia’s nuclear deterrent, or its early warning system (Interfax, January 12).
While presenting the draft, the Chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev announced: “The Senate resolution does not legally bind either Russia or the US, and the Duma resolution is equally legally non-binding and does not add anything to the text signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev. If in the future any disagreements arise, concerning the implementation of START III, they will be dealt with by the joint US-Russia consultative commission envisaged by START III” (RIA Novosti, January 12). In effect, Kosachev acknowledged that the ratification procedure and the resolution with amendments are not serious.
The communist opposition in the Duma voiced its rejection of START III, claiming it favored the US. But the communists know that their minority objections will not be taken into consideration by the ruling United Russia. Communist Deputy, Nikolai Kolomeytsev commented: “I understand the treaty will be ratified, but still, let those in the US know, not all in Russia support national treason” (Interfax, January 12). Earlier Kosachev acknowledged that Russia needs START III much more than the US and that the present US BMD “does not threaten the Russian strategic potential” (RIA Novosti, January 7). By the end of the month START III will be ratified by both houses of parliament and will be sent to President Medvedev to sign it (Interfax, January 12).
The future of START III seems to be secure, but the outlook for the Russian nuclear deterrent is in question, causing serious internal discussions. According to the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces (Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya –RVSN) Lieutenant-General Sergei Karakayev, Russia will prolong the service of its heavy Cold War SS-18 liquid-fuel missiles until 2026 “to keep a sufficient number of deployed warheads.” RVSN intercontinental missiles (ICBM’s) were designed to serve for 10 to 15 years, but today the lifespan of SS-19’s has been prolonged to 33 years, SS-18’s to 23 years and mobile SS-25 Topol ICBM’s to 24 years. Karakayev announced that “special work is being done to keep the heavy SS-18’s in service, “since replacing these with new ICBM’s will cost more” (RIA Novosti, December 17).
Two thirds of Russia’s strategic nuclear warheads are today deployed on land-based RVSN ICBM’s and 85 percent of those warheads are carried by old SS-18’s (ten warheads) and SS-19’s (six warheads) that have not been produced since the 1980’s. New silo-based and land-mobile SS-27 Topol-M and RS-24 Yars (a modernized SS-27 with three warheads instead of one) are produced and deployed, but the deployment rate is less than ten annually. The final retirement of SS-18’s and SS-19’s may cause a drastic decline in Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal and this has forced the RVSN to prolong the lifespan of aging ICBM’s (RIA Novosti, December 17).
The RVSN is demanding the development and deployment of new heavy liquid-fuel silo-based ICBM’s to replace the SS-18. According to the chief of Rosobtzemash Corporation, Artur Usenkov, such a new heavy ICBM with ten individual warheads “capable of penetrating any BMD systems that may be produced until 2050” has been in development in Russia since 2009 (ITAR-TASS, December 17).
The chief builder of solid-fuel SS-25, SS-27, RS-24 ICBMs and the sea-based Bulava, Yuri Solomonov, confirmed Russia’s new ten year (2011-2020) armament program contains a clause about developing a new heavy liquid-fuel ICBM. But Solomonov told journalists there is little sense in spending money developing and deploying an old-fashioned ICBM, filled with highly poisonous liquid fuel. Solomonov called for the development of this new ICBM to be restricted to only design research and that in 2012-2013 a special government “collective decision” must be made on whether to proceed. Solomonov implied that silo-based missiles are too vulnerable to a US first nuclear strike and a decision to invest in such weapons is too important to leave it “to the defense minister” (RIA Novosti, December 20).
Solomonov was in turn rebuffed by Colonel-General (retired) Viktor Yesin, the former chief of staff of the RVSN, who is now an adviser to Karakayev. According to Yesin, the SS-18 has a payload of 8.8 tons, while the SS-27 carries a payload of only 1.2 tons and the RS-24 has a payload of 1.4 tons. To penetrate a possible US BMD system it is important to launch at North America lots of real and dummy heavy warheads – a task the SS-27 and RS-24 cannot execute. The vulnerability of heavy silo-based ICBM’s, according to Yesin, is easily overridden by their capability to launch in seconds after first warning, while the US attacking warheads are still flying (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, January 12).
During the Cold War such heated debates on how to proceed with the nuclear arms race were in fact normal, but the closed communist totalitarian state did not allow them to reach the public and most of all – foreigners that did not appreciate how merciless the struggle for resources was within the system. Solomonov wants to monopolize all possible budget allocations to promote and deploy his solid-fuel ICBM’s despite all the mishaps that have plagued his naval Bulava missile. The RVSN wants to continue to operate its traditional silo heavy ICBM’s at constant immediate launch readiness, despite the existing threat that possible glitches in Russia’s rundown early warning system may lead to an accidental nuclear war. This real world of strife and intrigue is far from the nice rhetoric of global nuclear arms control and disarmament.