SIX WARHEADS PER MISSILE

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Russia has decided to modernize its nuclear forces faster

Yuri Solomonov, chief designer at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, says that Russia will have at least 2,000 nuclear warheads by 2011. This could be done by equipping Russia’s missiles with a unified nuclear warhead system containing six individually-targeted warheads.


An unprecedented launch took place last weekend at the Kapustin Yar test range in the Astrakhan region. A model of a new all-purpose nuclear warhead system for sea- and land-based missile systems was successfully delivered to the Sary-Shagan test range by a K65M-R strategic missile, designed over 40 years ago. By adopting this new type of warhead, Russia plans to reduce the extent to which it lags behind the United States in terms of the number of nuclear warheads installed on strategic missiles.

The Russian-American Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) commits both sides to reducing their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by December 31, 2012. But the rate at which Russia’s aging missiles are being dismantled indicates that by that date, Russia will be practically unarmed in comparison to the United States. This is among the points made in a much-discussed article written by two American experts and published in “Foreign Affairs.” By calculating the rates at which Russia is dismantling old strategic missiles and deploying new ones, they conclude that the United States is attaining strategic superiority over Russia and China, and that Washington could win a nuclear war.

These assertions have been challenged in Moscow. Yuri Solomonov, chief designer at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (where the land-based Topol-M ICBM and the latest Bulava naval missile were designed), stated last week that Russia will have at least 2,000 nuclear warheads by 2011. This could be done by equipping Russia’s missiles with a unified nuclear warhead system containing six individually-targeted warheads. The Topol-M, for example, only carries one warhead at present.

Bilateral agreements oblige Moscow to notify Washington of its future plans for modernizing its nuclear forces. According to Solomonov, this is likely to be done after tests of the latest warhead for the Bulava system. Some reports indicate that these tests are scheduled for late 2006. They may need to be brought forward substantially; Russia has decided to step up the pace of modernizing its nuclear forces.

Strategic Missile Forces spokesman Alexander Vovk stated that last weekend’s launch had tested not only the nuclear warhead system, but also “several new elements of weaponry intended to penetrate missile-defense systems,” in conditions closely approximating combat conditions.

Vovk said: “The test ranges and measurement systems enable us to test warhead systems and missile defense penetration weaponry across the entire range of possible delivery conditions. According to mesurement data, the launch was successful and the test objectives were fulfilled.”

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