Unlearned lessons: Who needs a nuclear apocalypse today?

This post was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – In the current system of treaty relations between Russia and the United States on strategic offensive arms control (START), the existing triad of the country’s strategic nuclear forces (SNF), consisting of the Strategic Missile Forces, naval SNF and aviation SNF, currently and in the medium term, provides an overall balance and a guaranteed nuclear potential. deterrence, that is, the ability to carry out an effective retaliatory strike.

If the START-3 Treaty is not extended and a new one is not concluded, at least two scenarios are possible. First, in the absence of formal restrictions on strategic arms ceilings, the parties will not strive for a noticeable build-up of warheads and delivery vehicles, focusing mainly on improving individual strategic offensive arms and developing new types.

The extremely limited information on the state of strategic offensive arms, including movements, decommissioning and the introduction of new objects, which, under the terms of contractual relations, was provided by the parties through inspections and notifications, can be provided by national space reconnaissance and monitoring assets. Other information on US strategic offensive arms can be obtained in open sources from reports on ongoing developments, tests, funding and other actions. In Russia, many such data traditionally remain closed.

Nevertheless, an approximate balance of nuclear deterrence potentials will remain.

The second option is that the United States is starting to build up its strategic offensive weapons, starting with an increase in the number of warheads on the Minuteman-3 ICBM from one to three units and on the Trident-2 SLBM from 4 to 8 or 12 units. Russian capabilities in this regard exist to a limited extent.

The overall balance of START of the parties will be upset. However, as estimates made on the basis of open data show, in a retaliatory strike by Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, from 300 to 400 nuclear warheads can be delivered to the United States. The US missile defense system or the periodically discussed threats of a disarming strike with high-precision non-nuclear weapons will have practically no effect on this potential. This number of warheads is more than enough to eliminate any motivation to launch the first nuclear strike against Russia.

At the same time, the constant repetition of the irrefutable results of numerous calculations of federal and independent experts about the impossibility of creating a missile defense system to protect the territory of the United States and Russia from a massive missile strike, the assertion that antimissile defense can be relatively dense only against single or several attacking missiles, as well as and the impossibility of disarming strikes using non-nuclear high-precision weapons – all this does not prevent politicians of various ranks from periodically intimidating the public with an imaginary catastrophe. That can lead to a real resumption of the nuclear arms race, the development of the latest weapons systems with all the negative consequences for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and international security as a whole.

The development of events according to the second option could be avoided at the initial stage when the START-3 Treaty is extended for five years and in the foreseeable future when a new treaty is concluded. Some hope is given by the results of the recent meeting in Vienna. However, the absurd and unpredictable policy of President Trump and his administration in the field of international security, if it still leaves the chances of extending the START III Treaty and discussing a new treaty, is very small. Changes in the current situation could occur with a change in the US administration. With a view to such changes, one can consider the conditions for agreeing new agreements on strategic offensive arms limitation.

Modern “Kuzkina’s mother”

Of all the new types of weapons periodically declared by Vladimir Putin, the Sarmat ICBMs, the Avangard missile system with a gliding winged unit, the Poseidon super torpedo (or atomic drone) and the Petrel cruise missile of unlimited flight range with nuclear weapons can be classified as strategic nuclear types. power plant (NPP).

The first two models fit well into the traditional and current START-3 Treaty. The Sarmat ICBMs are intended to replace the Voevoda ICBMs in the silo launchers of the Strategic Missile Forces. The Avangard complex, in which the UR-100N UTTKh ICBM is used as the upper stage of the gliding winged block, is also located in the silo launchers of the Voevoda ICBM. Confirmation that the United States and Russia have agreed on the inclusion of the “Vanguard” in the framework of the START-3 Treaty is the direct inspection of this complex at the combat position by American inspectors in accordance with the treaty procedures.

Thus, the Sarmat and Avangard missile systems do not formally hinder the extension of the START-3 Treaty, as well as the negotiations on a new treaty.

The Poseidon and Burevestnik complexes are another matter. Their tests are at an early stage and the timing of their possible adoption into service will most likely be outside the time frame of the extended START-3 Treaty. But their inclusion in a hypothetically possible new treaty could be considered subject to the existence in the United States of similar systems or other new models that are subject to control and do not violate the overall balance of deterrent potentials. Today, the opportunity to achieve a solution to this problem seems extremely difficult, rather even impossible.

If it is important for the Russian leadership to conclude a new START treaty with the Americans primarily in terms of the status factor, then it is advisable to assess the contribution of the Poseidon and Burevestnik complexes to the nuclear deterrent potential, taking into account the fact that the existing and modernized triad of Russian strategic nuclear forces in the foreseeable future and without these advanced systems, it provides guaranteed nuclear deterrence, which, as noted above, cannot be influenced by US missile defense and high-precision non-nuclear weapons.

Plans call for the deployment of 32 Poseidon super torpedoes on four Belgorod-class nuclear submarines, one of which has already been launched in Severodvinsk in the presence of President Putin. The super torpedo is being assembled. There are various assessments of its capabilities, taking into account the range, speed and depth of movement, a set of American anti-torpedoes, detection systems and other characteristics. Experts are considering the possibility of destroying US aircraft carriers, two naval bases where missile carriers are deployed, coastal infrastructure and other key facilities as various tasks of the Poseidon with nuclear and conventional equipment.

Such tasks require an answer to the central question: for what scenarios of conventional or nuclear war it is possible to use the Poseidon? If we are talking about a large-scale war with conventional weapons, which side is the first to start it, Russia or the United States? Obviously, neither the one nor the other, because if the United States, then in accordance with the military doctrine of Russia, they will receive a nuclear strike in response, and for Russia to start such a war is suicidal madness.

Mutual nuclear deterrence is based, as is known, on the demonstration of the potential of a guaranteed retaliatory strike both in the conditions of treaty relations and in their absence. The capabilities of a retaliatory strike during a massive nuclear attack are assessed above. Now you can ask the question about the place of “Poseidon” with super-powerful nuclear equipment in scenarios of nuclear exchange. A retaliatory strike is traditionally planned to be delivered within a limited period of time after the end of the first strike of the aggressor. As noted above, the existing and modernized triad of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, in the foreseeable future and without the participation of Poseidon, provides a guaranteed nuclear deterrence for the United States.

Then what is the purpose of its development, apart from demonstrating a new technological base, using small-sized nuclear power plants, and new materials? One of the explanations may be that in some future the Americans will make a colossal leap in the development and deployment of continuous space, air, sea and ground missile defense, reanimating the Star Wars program on a new technological base, will be able to reliably hit not only Russian stationary, but and mobile ICBMs, missile submarines and heavy bombers.

And then Poseidon will become the last system of nuclear deterrence (unless the Americans invent protection against it). However, the fact that the Americans will conceive and even begin to plan such a program is discussed mainly in Russia as horror stories with the aim of additional financing of the military-industrial complex. Even if you imagine a similar program in the United States, it will take more than one decade to implement it, and Poseidon will become hopelessly outdated.

If it presents an insurmountable obstacle to highly desirable negotiations on a new START treaty and spurs the nuclear arms race, it would be advisable to freeze its further development and construction of Belgorod-class submarines, preserving the design and production groundwork for any completely unpredictable event.

Likewise, in no real scenario, the Petrel cruise missile will not be able to make any contribution to Russia’s nuclear deterrent potential provided by the existing triad of strategic nuclear forces. It should be borne in mind that the likelihood of a successful flight of cruise missiles with a much shorter flight duration compared to the Burevestnik is noticeably lower compared to the weapons in the strategic nuclear forces. The experience of creating small-sized nuclear power plants in non-military spheres may be more valuable.

Unlearned lessons

In addition to saving funds, it is also advisable to take into account the historical experience of attempts to create new systems or build up nuclear forces without taking into account the opponent’s response.

First lesson. In the second half of the 70s, the USSR began to develop orbital anti-satellite stations “Kaskad” and “Skif” with missile and laser weapons and it was supposed to test them. The development was carried out by cooperation led by the Central Design Bureau of the almighty at that time academician Vladimir Chelomey. Suddenly, at one of the meetings, the head of department of the 4TSNII of the Ministry of Defense, Yuri Knyazev, spoke in detail and explained in detail that putting these stations into orbits for testing would cause such a powerful and disproportionate response from the United States in the field of combat space, which would be extremely disadvantageous to the USSR.

It is difficult to retell Chelomey’s outburst of indignation! He shouted who the colonel was, how he dared to object and the like. However, doubts were sown. There were also wise people in the Commission on Military-Industrial Issues under the USSR Council of Ministers, including such a well-known and authoritative person as Krasnoslav Osadchiev, who always carefully considered the positions of scientific organizations. As a result, this program was abandoned and not at all due to lack of funds.

Lesson two. It refers to the period before the signing of the INF Treaty, when the Soviet Union was increasing the production and deployment of the Pioneer missile systems. The Americans proposed options for eliminating intermediate and shorter-range missiles, but they did not yet have Pershing-2 and cruise missiles (there was only Pershing-1). The Soviet leadership decisively refused this, the exchange seemed clearly unequal and the build-up of “Pioneers” continued.

And only when the Americans deployed Pershing-2 and cruise missiles with increased hitting accuracy in Europe, which became extremely dangerous for the USSR, and our missiles posed no threat to US territory, did the Soviet leadership understand the need for an INF Treaty. As a result, our country had to eliminate twice as many missiles and three times as many nuclear warheads as compared to the Americans.

It is difficult to predict what today the Americans with their resources are able to do in response to the Poseidons, but it is better not to create preconditions for this.

Offer for negotiations

In mid-July of this year, US President’s Arms Control Representative Marshall Billingsley announced his intention to press Russia to abandon the development of nuclear-powered missiles. “There is no compelling reason, no normal logic to have such apocalyptic weapons at all … this is an incredible waste of money and they need to stop this and put aside such destabilizing ideas,” he said.

Naturally, the demands in such a categorical form aroused sharp discontent among a number of State Duma deputies and experts. Arms limitation problems cannot be solved in this way. At the same time, given the new developments of the United States in response to our new weapons, it seems appropriate to invite the Americans to begin negotiations on an agreement on the mutual ban on the creation of any types of ground, air and sea-based drones, including UAVs, with nuclear power plants and nuclear warheads. Unlike negotiations on strategic offensive arms, this can be done by the current US administration. This would be a useful initiative by our diplomacy to unblock the existing impasse in arms control relations.


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