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Table of Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 2002


Warheads x yield (kiloton)
Total warheads
Total megatons


SS-18 M4/M5/M6
Satan (RS-20)
10 x 550/750 (MIRV)
SS-19 M3
Stiletto (RS-18)
6 x 550 (MIRV)
SS-24 M1/M2
Scalpel (RS-22)
10 x 550 (MIRV)
Sickle (RS-12M)
1 x 550
1 x 550
Total ICBMs



SS-N-18 M1
Stingray (RSM-50)
96 (6)#
3 x 500 (MIRV)
SS-N-20 M1/M2
Sturgeon (RSM-52)
40 (2)#
10 x 200 (MIRV)
Skiff (RSM-54)
96 (6)#
4 x 100 (MIRV)
Total SLBMs



Bear H6
6 AS-15A ALCMs or bombs
Bear H16
16 AS-15A ALCM or bombs
12 AS-15B ALCMs or 12 AS-16 SRAMs, or 12 bombs
Total Bomber/weapons




*Some SS-18s carry a single warhead, although under START all will be counted as carrying ten.

**Under START the number of warheads on the SS-N-18 will be counted as three.

#Numbers in parentheses refer to submarines.

ALCM--air-launched cruise missile; ICBM--intercontinental ballistic missile, range greater than 5,500 kilometers; MIRV--multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles; SLBM--submarine-launched ballistic missile.


Russian Nuclear Forces, 2002

As of mid-2002, Russia was estimated to have an arsenal of some 8,400 operational nuclear warheads, consisting of almost 5,000 strategic and nearly 3,400 non-strategic and air defense warheads. The primary changes from a year ago involve a decrease of over 600 ICBM and SLBM warheads. The number of operational non-strategic nuclear weapons declined slightly from ~3,600 to ~3,400 over the same period. The actual number of Russia warheads is probably closer to 18,000, with the bulk of them non-strategic and their status unclear. A portion may be awaiting dismantlement while others could make up a reserve that could be returned to operational service.

December 2001 was the START I deadline to meet the 6,000 accountable warhead level. The Russians have more than met that goal. According to a U.S. State Department document there are ~5,520 warheads are attributed to Russian deployed ICBMS, SLBMS, and heavy bombers.

In 2000 President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was interested in reducing strategic warheads to 1,500 or fewer. In a May 2002 summit Presidents Bush and Putin signed an agreement in Moscow to reduce the number of "operationally deployed" warhead to between 1,700 and 2,200 by the end of 2012. On the Russian side because resources are being shifted from nuclear to conventional forces, it is likely their strategic forces will decline to those levels or lower even earlier. In June 2001, the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), long the lead service of Soviet and Russian armed forces, was downgraded to a branch of armed forces. There were further indications that SRF troops might be subordinated to the Air Force.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)

The September 1990 START I MOU stated that 204 SS-18s were deployed in Russia (30 at Aleysk, 64 at Dombarovskiy, 46 at Kartaly and 64 at Uzhur). Another 104 were deployed at two missile fields in Kazakhstan. The START I Treaty called for the number of warheads on heavy ICBMs to be reduced to 1,540. This meant that the number of SS-18s was to be reduced by half by the end of 2001, the date of START I final implementation.

Russia has exceeded its START I obligation. The SS-18 missiles in Kazakhstan and their warheads were shipped back to Russia by April 1995. In Russia, 60 SS-18s have been removed from service, leaving 144 with 52 at Dombarovskiy, 46 at Kartaly (east of the Ural Mountains near the Kazakhstan border) and 46 at Uzhur (in the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region). On April 27, 2001, after 37 years of service the Strategic Missile Troops Division at Aleysk was officially disbanded. The 30 silos at Aleysk were blown up according to standard treaty procedures. The START II Treaty banned all MIRVed heavy ICBMs with the exception of up permitting use of 90 SS-18 silos that could have been converted to carry single warhead missiles. Since the START II Treaty never entered into force and the new, more laissez-faire agreement of May 2002 has superceded it, Russia may retain its MIRVed SS-18s. The missiles are unlikely to remain in service indefinitely due to their finite service life. Two variants of the SS-18 are currently deployed-the older RS-20B and the newer RS-20V. While START counts all SS-18s as carrying 10 warheads, the RS-20B variant can carry a single warhead and a few of these may be deployed. The range of a fully MIRVed SS-18 is 11,000 km, with the single-warhead missile capable of 15,000 km. It is estimated that the warheads on the RS-20B have yields of 500-550 kt and, on the RS-20V, 550-750 kt.

According to the September 1990 START I Treaty MOU, 170 SS-19s were in Russia (60 at Kozelsk and 110 at Tatishchevo). Another 130 were at two bases in Ukraine (the Ukrainian missiles were removed from service by mid-1996). A November 1995 Ukrainian-Russian agreement included the sale of 32 SS-19s-which had been stored in Ukraine-back to Russia. Some SS-19s in Russia are being withdrawn from service (33 thus far, at Tatishchevo) to make way for new SS-27 missiles, which are deployed in SS-19 silos. Under START II, Russia could have kept up to 105 SS-19s downloaded to a single warhead (from the current six). Because START II never entered into force, Russia may retain their MIRVed SS-19s, although their service life is limited.

According to the December 1994 START I MOU, 46 SS-24s were in service in Russia, 10 silo-based and 36 rail-based. Another 46 were in Ukraine (the Ukrainian missiles were taken out of service by mid-1996; the last silo was destroyed in 2001). The ten silo-based SS-24 M2s deployed at Tatishchevo were removed from service in 2000 to accommodate the deployment of new SS-27 silo-based missiles. Thirty-six rail-based SS-24M1s remain at garrisons at Bershet, Kostroma and Krasnoyarsk.

In Russia, the road-mobile, single-warhead SS-25 missile system is known as Topol. When the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a number of SS-25s were left in Belarus. By 1997 the last of these missiles and their warheads had been shipped back to Russia. There are 360 SS-25s deployed at 10 basing areas in Russia. The deployment of new regiments of SS-25s (nine missiles each) ended by 1997 as Russia shifted to producing and deploying the follow-on to the SS-25-the Topol-M, or the SS-27, as it is the designated by the U.S. Government.

Flight-testing of the SS-27 began on December 20, 1994. Two silo-based SS-27s were put on "trial service" in December 1997 at the Tatishchevo missile base near Saratov in southwestern Russia. One regiment of ten missiles was declared operational in December 1998 and a second regiment with another ten missiles in December 1999. A third regiment was activated in late December 2000, but with only four missiles out of the planned ten because of a cut in the anticipated funding for 2000. Another five missiles were deployed in 2001, bringing the total deployed to 29. The SS-27s are housed in former SS-19 and SS-24 silos at Tatishchevo.

In 1998 the Strategic Rocket Forces intended to deploy 20-30 new SS-27 Topol-M missiles per year over the next three years and 30-40 per year for three years after that, but deployments have fallen far short of this schedule. Only six more missiles may be deployed in 2002 and only 50-60 by the end of 2005, considerably fewer than the 160-220 previously anticipated.

At least five ICBM launches took place in 2001: on February 16, a SS-25 missile was launched from Plesetsk; on June 27, a SS-19 missile was launched from Baikonur; on October 3, a training launch of a 15-year-old SS-25 missile was conducted from Plesetsk; on October 26, a SS-19, more than 25-years old, was launched from Baikonur (to test a downloaded version and to confirm the reliability of the SS-19's service life extension); and on November 1, a SS-25 missile was test-fired from Plesetsk.

Nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)
The September 1990 START I MOU listed 62 SSBNs. At the end of 2001, only 14 were considered to be operational: six Delta IIIs, six Delta IVs and two Typhoons. All Yankee, Delta I and Delta II SSBNs have been withdrawn from operational service. Of the original six Typhoon submarines, one was scrapped in 2001, another is being prepared for scrapping and two more appear to not be in service. Unless there is additional funding or a replacement is found for the ageing SS-N-20 missiles, the remaining Typhoons are likely to be retired. Of the original 14 Delta IIIs, seven have been removed from service and one has been converted to a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV). Of the original seven Delta IVs, one has been removed from service. In 1999, in order to keep the remaining Delta IVs in service, it was decided to restart the SS-N-23 production line. There are reports that a new variant of this SLBM is being considered to carry up to 10 warheads instead of the current four. Steps are also being taken to extend the service life of the deployed SS-N-23s. Operational SSBNs in the Northern Fleet are based on the Kola Peninsula (at Nerpichya and Yagelnaya) and in the Pacific Fleet (at Rybachiy, 15 km south-west of Petropavlovsk) on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The keel of the first of a new Borey class SSBN was laid in November 1996. Construction has been intermittent and was suspended altogether in 1998 while the submarine was being redesigned to accommodate a new SLBM. The Russian Navy hopes to have the first boat in commission in 2005 or shortly thereafter, but it is unclear whether there will be adequate funding to finish it by then.

Combat training launches of SLBMs in 2001 included the following. On February 16, the Delta IV Class Northern Fleet submarine K-407 Novomoskovsk launched a SS-N-23 from the Barents Sea; on June 5, a Northern Fleet SSBN launched a SLBM; on September 18, the Delta III Class Pacific Fleet submarine K-223 Podolsk launched a SS-N-18 SLBM from the Sea of Okhotsk; and on October 18, the Typhoon Class Northern Fleet submarine TK-20 Severstal launched two SS-N-20 SLBMs from the White Sea, before returning to its base at Nerpichya in November.

Economic constraints, a shrinking SSBN fleet, and obvious safety concerns in the aftermath of the Kursk tragedy in August 2000, have led to a substantial decreases in the number of SSBN patrols-as well as nuclear-powered general-purpose submarine (SSN/SSGN) patrols. According to the U.S. Navy, in 1991 there were 37 SSBN patrols. In 2001 there was one. It should be noted, however, that some SSBNs are able to launch their SLBMs while in port.

Strategic bombers are part of the Russian Air Force's 37th Air Army. According to the January 31, 2002 START I Treaty Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Bear bombers are deployed at the following airbases (ABs): the Bear-H16-16 at Ukrainka AB in Siberia (79th Heavy Guard Bomber Regiment), 13 at Engels AB (121st Heavy Bomber Regiment) and two at Ryazan AB; and the Bear H-6-25 at Ukrainka, 5 at Engels and 2 at Ryazan.

According to the January 31, 2002 START I MOU, 15 Blackjacks are based at Engels AB. Eight of these bombers were transferred from Ukraine to Russia in late 1999 and early 2000 in exchange for partial payment of Ukrainian natural gas debts to Russia. The operational status of the bombers transferred from Ukraine remains unclear. However, according to reports the transferred bombers require moderate to extensive overhaul and modernization. There is also a one new bomber delivered in May 2000 by the Kazan Gorbunov production plant. The Tu-160 force may increase slightly in the coming years if the production line can be sustained. Although there were lack of funds in 2001, three more Blackjacks are under construction, one of which may be delivered by late 2002 or early 2003. There are plans to modernize and extend the service lives of the older Tu-160s, according to Air Force Commander in Chief Vladimir Mikhaylov, which would allow them to carry "new types of missiles with conventional and nuclear warheads."

The larger force led to the creation of a new unit of Tu-160s, the 22nd Donbass Guard Heavy Bomber Aviation Division (Tu-160s had operated as part of the 121st Heavy Bomber Regiment).

As for exercises, on February 14, 2002 a pair of Tu-160 Blackjack bombers flew along Norway's northern border while on the same day, approximately four medium-range Tu-22 Backfire bombers flew near Japanese airspace. This caused Norway to dispatch interceptor aircraft and Japan to lodge a protest over possible violation of its airspace. On February 16, a Tu-95 Bear-H bomber launched a strategic cruise missile and two Tu-22M Backfire bombers launched non-strategic cruise missiles as part of the same ongoing exercise, which also included the above mentioned ICBM and SLBM launches. A large Pacific area air exercise involving Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 strategic and theater bombers was to have begun on September 10. Blackjack bombers were spotted at Anadyr AB, and additional U.S. and Canadian interceptors were moved to the area to monitor the exercise. The Russian Defense Ministry cancelled the exercise after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington at the request of the U.S. Government, to ensure that there would be no accidental incidents involving Russian aircraft flying near U.S. borders.

Non-strategic forces
Estimating the size of the Russian nuclear arsenal, and specifically the non-strategic nuclear weapon arsenal, is extremely difficult. Some 30,000 nuclear weapons, plus or minus several thousand, may have been in the Soviet arsenal in 1991. Estimates of the dismantlement rates of Russian warheads vary from several hundred to 1,000 or 2,000 per year. U.S. Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates suggest that Russia has been dismantling slightly more than 1,000 warheads per year throughout the 1990s, with perhaps more than 10,000 dismantled since 1991. If so, the remaining arsenal may contain nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons, plus or minus several thousand. Approximately 5,000 of these may be deployed on strategic nuclear weapons systems, while some 3,400 may be non-strategic weapons kept for operational use by the Navy and Air Force, including those for air defense. The balance are non-strategic and strategic weapons kept in storage, with some destined for dismantlement, and others possibly kept as a reserve for re-deplyment.

In October 1991 and January 1992, as part of the U.S.- Russian Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, Russia announced that it would take several unilateral steps to withdraw and eliminate some non-strategic nuclear weapons. With regard to the Navy, non-strategic nuclear weapons were removed from surface ships and submarines and placed in regional or central storage sites. Nuclear weapons deployed on naval aircraft, or at front-line storage facilities servicing naval airbases, were also placed in regional or central storage sites. One-third of the Navy's non-strategic nuclear weapons were eliminated by 1996. The number of ships capable of carrying nuclear weapons has declined from about 400 in 1990 to about 100 in 2001.

With regard to the Russian Ground Forces, all nuclear weapons are thought to have been withdrawn from operational forces by 1998 and consolidated at regional or central storage sites. Although final elimination of Ground Forces nuclear weapons was expected in 2000-2001, Russia announced in April 2002, that the destruction of nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, nuclear artillery shells and nuclear mines continues. If there is sufficient funding, Russia will finish eliminating all Ground Forces nuclear weapons by 2004. With regard to the Air Force, one-half of its inventory of nuclear air-bombs has been eliminated. One-half of the warheads for surface-to-air missiles were also destroyed.

In 1992, President Yeltsin declared that production of nuclear warheads for ground-launched tactical missiles, nuclear artillery shells and nuclear mines had recently been halted. In April 2002, the Russian government repeated that production of these three types of nuclear weapons systems had been "completely stopped."

last revised 11.25.02

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