In the last couple of months there was a flurry of statements on the future of Russian strategic forces. Most of them were part of the presidential election campaign - the "strong defense" rhetoric was an important part of the message coming from the current leadership. There wasn't much that was really new, but some developments are worth noting.

The most interesting changes are coming to the Russian strategic fleet. First of all, with the series of successful tests of the Bulava missile, it is now expected that the first two submarines of the Project 955 Borey class - K-535 Yuri Dolgorukiy and K-550 Aleksandr Nevskiy - will be accepted for service this summer. Other sources report that Aleksandr Nevskiy will be accepted for service somewhat later, in December 2012 - this sounds more plausible.

Project 955 submarines will be eventually transferred to the Pacific Fleet base at Vilyuchinsk in Kamchatka, but they might stay with the Northern Fleet for a while - some reports suggest that the base is not quite ready to accept the new submarines. That won't be long, though. (It's interesting to note that the Vilyuchinsk base was almost closed down in 2002 - it was saved by an intervention of the government that asked two private companies, Surgutneftegaz and TNK, to "step up" and provide the funds for its reconstruction.)

The third Project 955 class submarine, Vladimir Monomakh, is currently under construction. It is expected to enter service in 2013. Vladimir Monomakh is the first submarine that was built as a Project 955 class from the beginning - the first two ships used components of two unfinished attack submarines of the Project 971 class.

The status of the fourth submarine is somewhat unclear. It was supposed to begin in 2009, but it didn't, then it was postponed again in 2010. When the government signed contracts with the shipbuilding industry on November 9, 2011, one of them went to the Rubin Design Bureau - "39 billion rubles for development of a strategic submarine of the Project 955A class." The construction contract for this submarine has not been signed, but Sevmash says that it already has about 80% of the strong hull of the new ship ready. This strong hull would need some work, though - the main difference between Project 955A and its predecessor is that the new submarines will carry 20 missiles instead of 16.

At some point there was a discussion of increasing the Project 955 submarines order from the currently planned eight to ten, but it looks like that discussion didn't go anywhere. It is, in fact, not clear if Russia will be able to stay within the New START limits with the increase of the number of SLBMs (and their warheads). The number of SLBM warheads will also increase if the missiles on Project 667BDRM submarines will be upgraded from Sineva to Liner - the latter can carry up to ten warheads. But maybe it won't be a problem - Russia could always "download" its missiles if necessary. It could also create Russia's own "upload potential" - something that it never had in the past.