Projections-Jan-2009As I wrote in the last Bulletin Online column, it would be quite difficult for Russia to reduce the number of its strategic nuclear warheads below about 1500 if it is serious about completing all the development programs that are currently underway. The charts on the left (the image is clickable) illustrate this point.

The assumptions behind this chart are fairly conservative. I assume 30 years lifetime for R-36MUTTH and R-36M2 missiles - this means that the former will be gone by 2014 and the latter (40 of them) - by 2022. The currently deployed UR-100NUTTH will serve a bit longer and I assume that the last of them will be decommissioned in 2018. All Topol missiles will be removed from service by 2015, which assumes their service life of about 21-22 years.

The plans for Topol-M deployment announced in 2006 assumed that by the end of 2015 the Rocket Forces will have 114 Topol-M missiles. This means that the deployment rate is about 7 missiles a year - not far from what has been demonstrated so far. The main change is that starting in 2009 Topol-M missiles will be deployed with multiple warheads. I assume that the MIRVed Topol-M/RS-24 will carry three warheads, although a higher number - up to seven - seems to be possible. The 65 Topol-M missiles that have been already deployed will probably be left with a single warhead.

With submarines, the assumption is that Russia will retire the Project 667BDR submarines in the next two years (if it hasn't done so already) and will keep six Project 667BDRM submarines with R-29RM Sineva missiles. The first Project 955 submarine with Bulava missiles (carrying 16 missiles with 6 warheads) will enter force in 2011. I assume that Project 667BDRM ships will be removed from service as the new Project 955 submarines enter service, so the total number of submarines will never be more than eight.

As it turned out, I misinterpreted the reports about new Tu-160 production - bringing the number of these aircraft to 30 by 2020 is something that the industry is hoping for, not the actual plan. This does not change the projection, however, since the number of warheads carried by bombers still assumed to stay at the current level (it also assumes that all Tu-95MS carry 6 ALCMs).

As I mentioned, these are conservative assumptions - if MIRVed Topol-M carries more than three warheads or if Russia decides to develop and deploy a new liquid-fuel missile or if Project 667BDRM submarines stay in force longer, the number of warheads will be higher than 1500. Accelerated withdrawal of old ICBMs could help somewhat, but not very much. If Russia is serious about reducing its nuclear arsenal, it would have to cut the new programs. This is unlikely to be easy.