The military threat of NATO expanding eastward is forcing Russia to modernize its strategic nuclear weapons. New types of ballistic missiles have been created, strategic aviation is being perfected, submarines are being built and its outer space monitoring system is being upgraded.

Russia has begun the mass construction of new generation 955 Borei vessels, which will become the main component of Russia's nuclear naval triad. Photo: Press Photo

Moscow is accelerating the renewal of its nuclear deterrence capacities, with the complete renewal of the power groupings due to be finished by 2020, according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is responsible for Russia's military-industrial complex.

Today there are substantial reasons for Russia to be concerned about defense, says Viktor Yesin, former director of the headquarters of the strategic missile forces. "America setting up its Missile Defense System in Poland, Romania and possibly in the Baltic countries is a direct security threat for Russia," he says.

"The appearance of anti-missile systems in these countries will help the U.S. realize its so-called ‘lightning strike’ plan,” Yesin explains. “Its essence is to position the anti-missile systems as close as possible to the potential enemy's ballistic missile launching pads and prevent their launch.”

Strengthening the nuclear shield

He points out that while the Pershing II guided missile could fly to Moscow in 7-10 minutes from a launch site in Germany, rockets fired from new anti-missile systems in the Baltics would cover this distance in half the time.

“At these intervals the Russian Missile Defense System will be helpless,” he says, making it clear that this is one of the reasons why Moscow is seeking to modernize its ‘nuclear shield’ as soon as possible.

Within the strategic nuclear power development plan, a major step has been made towards the creation of new types of ballistic missiles – for example, the RS-26 Yars, which features multi-unit, hypersonic, maneuvering nuclear warheads.

Every block has its own guidance system and can overcome any missile defense system. The plan is to use these rockets to substitute the Topol and Topol-M mobile and shaft missile complexes, constituting 186 missiles in all.

New military doctrine

Naval components of the strategic nuclear deterrence capacity are also being developed. Russia has begun the mass construction of new generation 955 Borei vessels, which will become the main component of Russia's nuclear naval triad. According to the state defense program, by 2020 the navy will receive eight nuclear submarines equipped with 955-series ballistic missiles. Each of the underwater vessels will have 16 Bulayev ballistic missiles.

Meanwhile, Russia’s strategic aviation is witnessing the ongoing modernization of onboard equipment on its Tu-160 and Tu-95 missile carriers. Each of the 66 heavy bombers will receive new command, navigation and aiming systems, which will allow bombers to be utilized not only for nuclear deterrence, but also for launching missiles and bombs with the usual methods.

"The new national security doctrine being prepared for publication today in relation to the new challenges to Russian security will not include a paragraph on launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike in the case of a threat to the security of our country," says Yury Bakuyevsky, former general staff director of the Russian Army. "Nevertheless, Moscow reserves the right to possess and, in an emergency, use nuclear weapons."

A defensive reaction

In order to do this in modern conditions, it is not enough to just have ballistic missiles, submarines and bombers. It is also necessary to have a reliable system for monitoring sectors of outer space, providing missile launch alerts, and managing your own nuclear arms. As part of its 2020 State Defense Program, Russia has already established along its borders a network of radar stations to warn of the launch of Voronezh-type missiles.

The first of these stations has been set up near St. Petersburg. As a result, the military can now "see" everything that occurs in the air and space from the shores of Morocco to Spitsbergen, and as far away as the east coast of the United States.

A second station has been built near Armavir in the Krasnodar Territory, and monitors what is happening in the sector between North Africa and India. Radar Systems help control space at a distance of over 2,500 miles.

The construction of a station in the Kaliningrad Region has closed the western sector, and in the near future a station will also be set up in the Irkutsk Region; this will be able to ‘penetrate’ the space from China to the west coast of the U.S. According to General Sergei Karakayev, commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces, the forces under his supervision have switched to a new, completely digital command system. This increases the system's stability in case of a nuclear conflict.

"This flexing of muscles is most likely a defensive reaction, rather than the desire to frighten anyone," asserts Vadim Kozyulin, Professor at the Academy of Military Sciences, who argues that both Moscow and Washington know perfectly well the level of responsibility for possessing and the level of danger of using nuclear weapons.

“Otherwise the sides would not have sat and negotiated the question of preserving the agreement on mid and long-range missiles. In the field of strategic weapons I think both sides will maintain their prudence."

The article is first published in Russia Beyond The Headlines.