All posts in “strategic nuclear forces”

What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:

    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS


On 13 April 2010, the Presidents of the United States and Russia signed the collection of agreements and protocols which aggregated have been popularly called “New START,” following on the heels of the first START treaty, signed by President Bush and Secretary Gorbachev in July 1991, and the Moscow, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002. To recap those treaties:

I.  START (START I)(full text):

Treaty Structure: The Treaty consists of 19 articles; 38 agreed statements; seven protocols; numerous associated documents (such as letters and other correspondence); 47 Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC) agreements; 36 joint statements; 19 ‘S’ series joint statements; a definitions annex; and annexes to the Inspection Protocol and MOU.

Treaty Objectives: The START Treaty calls for reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of the Parties such that, no later than 84 months after entry into force of the Treaty, each Party’s strategic offensive arms (SOA) do not exceed: 1,600 for deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers (including a limit of 154 on deployed heavy ICBMs); 6,000 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, including: 4,900 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, 1100 for warheads attributed to deployed ICBMs on mobile launchers on ICBMS, and 1540 for warheads attributed to deployed heavy ICBMs. The Treaty also requires each Party to limit the aggregate throw-weight of its deployed ICBMs and SLBMs so that seven years after entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter such aggregate throw-weight does not exceed 3600 metric tons.

II.  Moscow Treaty (full text):

Treaty Structure: The Moscow Treaty consists of five paragraphs. The first preambular paragraph designates the United States and Russia as “the Parties” to obviate the use of their full names throughout the Treaty. The second, third and fourth preambular paragraphs set forth the Parties’ shared commitment to conducting their relations in the new century on a fundamentally different and more cooperative basis than had characterized their relations in the past. The fifth paragraph reaffirms the Parties’ general, longstanding commitment to implementing significant reductions in strategic offensive arms.

Treaty Objectives: The Treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce and limit their strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 each by December 31, 2012, a reduction of nearly two-thirds below current levels. The United States intends to implement the Treaty by reducing its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1700–2200 through removal of warheads from missiles in their launchers and from heavy bomber bases, and by removing some missiles, launchers, and bombers from operational service.

Before the signing of START I, the strategic nuclear landscape looked like this (Reference Date:1 September 1990):

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
USSR 2,500 10,271 9,416 6,626.3
US 2,246 10,563 8,210 2,361.3

Note that while the numbers in the first two columns, reflecting total Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (SNDVs) and warheads are relatively comparable, the final column, throweight, is skewed in the Soviet’s favor because of the fact that a substantial portion of the Strategic Rocket Force was comprised of so-called “heavy” ICBMs like the SS-18/R-36M (NATO: “SATAN”) with up to 18 x MiRVs (500KT-1.5MT yield) or a single 20-25MT warhead, and the SS-19/UR100N (NATO: “STILLETO”) with 6 x 550KT MiRVs or a single 2.5 – 5 MT warhead, whereas the US was heavily dependant on SLBMs and ALCMs with a smaller land-based ICBM force.  By 1 July 2009 those numbers stood as follows:

Deployed ICBMs and Their Associated Launchers, Deployed SLBMs and Their Associated Launchers, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers Warheads Attributed to Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs Throw-weight of Deployed ICBMs and Deployed SLBMs (MT)
809 3,897 3,289

Besides the reductions in SNDVs and warheads, START I instituted a regime of intrusive, on-site inspections following the example established by the INF Treaty which eliminated an entire class of weapons for the first time (at least between the US and Russia/FSU – not the rest of the world). This is the background against which New START (START II) was negotiated.

The START I Treaty expired in Dec 2009, and while neither side is necessarily bound to continue to observe treaty provisions, the US and Russia have agreed to proceed in the “spirit” of the treaty.  Nevertheless, certain functional areas have ceased – chief of which is verification for both onsite inspection and access to telemetry from tests.

III.  New START (full text):

The Numbers: Under the new Treaty, limits would be as follow (Article II (1a-c):

  • 1,550 “accountable strategic warheads,” i.e., warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers (Article II(b));
  • 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles – deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers (Article II(a));
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed “strategic launchers” – (e.g., a “deployed launcher of ICBMs” means an ICBM launcher that contains an ICBM and is not an ICBM test launcher, an ICBM training launcher or an ICBM launcher located at a space launch facility (Treaty Protocols – Part One (14/66))

Force Structure/Composition: The US and Russia shall have the right to self-determine the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms (Article II(2)) – meaning the US will retain it’s traditional Triad of bombers, SLBMs and land-based ICBMs.  Modernization and replacement will be permitted (Article V).

Verification: Under the new Treaty verification will return through several means – access to telemetry from tests, on site visits (up to 18 per year), and delivery every 6 months of an extensive accounting of all number, type and location of all the strategic offensive forces under the treaty. Additionally, a unique identifying number will be assigned to each missile and bomber, which will allow the US to follow that item through its life, especially important given the emphasis Russia is placing on land-mobile ICBMs.

Missile Defense: The treaty acknowledges, in preambular language (language found in the Treaty Preamble – see page 2 of the English-language text) that a relationship exists between offense and defense:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties. . .(emphasis added)

and missiles developed and tested solely as interceptors (e.g., the US ground-based interceptors located at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB, CA) are not counted:

(a) A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply. (Article II 7(a))

as well as further language in the Protocols exempting the converted silos in Vandenberg from being counted.

IV.  Criticisms

Criticisms of the Treaty have focused on three areas: Tactical weapons (especially Russia’s) are not addressed, Verification is not what START I permitted and US’ missile defense will be limited.  Additionally, a fourth issue arose a few months back with Senator Kyl’s (R-Az) objection over NNSA funding.  Rather than repeat a very detailed review of that criticism, I would instead recommend reading “New START at a Crossroads” by Jeffrey Lewis over at

Tactical weapons: Tactical weapons are a problem – always have been and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  From the time they were introduced in the 1950’s, they have vexed planners, operational commanders and arms control negotiators alike.  Able to be deployed with conventional forces and from conventional platforms (e.g., fighter-bombers), they are exceptionally difficult to verify in terms of location, numbers, capabilities and when governments begin to break down, as was the case when the Soviet Union dissolved, their very portability makes them a threat for proliferation and transfer to third-party state and non-state actors.  The US has consistently kept tactical nuclear weapons separate from strategic offensive arms dialogue – in part because of the verification difficulties, but also because of our nuclear guarantee to NATO being backed, in large measure, by forward deployed nuclear forces and our desire to keep the dialogue in a bilateral forum. Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs)  – unilateral declarations by the US and Russia/FSU in 1991 and 1992 respectively, were attempts to remove tactical nuclear weapons from deployed positions (at sea and ashore), but since these were unilateral declarations, each side chose which to count, which not to, pace of withdrawal and decommission, and there are no formal verification protocols in place.  In time, this led to several accusations and minor disputes, the latest being over Russian deployments of the SS-26 Iskander SRBM in the Kaliningrad district as a presumed response to the US announcement of European-based BMD (originally in response to the Poland-based GBI’s under President Bush’s initiative).  Bottom-line — while there is a need for formally addressing tactical nuclear weapons, it should be a separate forum and most likely a multi-lateral one at that.  START is for strategic offensive weapons systems and the current iterations in keeping with the precedence set beginning with SALT I in 1972.

Verification: The biggest change, and in some corners, shortcoming in New START is that it doesn’t provide for the same kind of in-residence, on-site inspectors like we had under START I (e.g., at Votkinsk).  When examined in detail, however, the verification regime for New START is very comprehensive and acknowledges the changes since START I.  For example, under START I we did not have actual data about warhead loading on Russian ICBMs and bombers (viz. SS-18 with 1-18 MiRVs).  RV shrouds could be partially lifted – but only enough to show that yes, there were RV’s under that shroud — actual numbers, not so.  We will have the ability to track individual missiles from birth to death and in so doing, verify active and inactive stockpiles.  We will still have the ability to put boots on the ground — but at times and places of choosing, rather than via a static portal.  Telemetry – detailed telemetry must be provided along with the means to enable reading it. Since December 2009, Russia has carried out several ICBM/SLBM tests – all without having to provide said telemetry.  The longer we wait, the further we get away form our baseline understanding of the weapons and the more uncertainty is injected into decision-making.  Verification is better than no verification and what we are getting with New START appears to provide the granularity needed for current and future needs.
Missile Defense: Probably the most vociferous critiques of the Treaty have come from those saying it will prevent us from developing our missile defenses.  There is nothing in the Treaty that specifically limits our development, current and planned, of missile defense – whether it is the GMD providing limited defense of a threat from NE Asia or the Phased Adaptive Approach for regional and theater defenses, where the threat is very real and rapidly growing in capacity and capability — conventional and nuclear.  The acknowledgement of a linkage between offense and defense in the preambular text again has roots back to the beginning of nuclear arms control talks with the Russians/Soviets and reiterated as recently as the 2002 Moscow Treaty in a Joint Statement by President Bush and President Putin:

The United States and Russia acknowledge that today’s security environment is fundamentally different than during the Cold War.

In this connection, the United States and Russia have agreed to implement a number of steps aimed at strengthening confidence and increasing transparency in the area of missile defense, including the exchange of information on missile defense programs and tests in this area, reciprocal visits to observe missile defense tests, and observation aimed at familiarization with missile defense systems. They also intend to take the steps necessary to bring a joint center for the exchange of data from early warning systems into operation.

The United States and Russia have also agreed to study possible areas for missile defense cooperation, including the expansion of joint exercises related to missile defense, and the exploration of potential programs for the joint research and development of missile defense technologies, bearing in mind the importance of the mutual protection of classified information and the safeguarding of intellectual property rights.

The United States and Russia will, within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, explore opportunities for intensified practical cooperation on missile defense for Europe.

In the context of the recently completed Lisbon Conference (Nov 2010) and the NATO-Russia Council that preceded, as well as ongoing bilateral talks with Russia, we continue to work towards cooperative missile defense as outlined above.  To be sure, Russia did release a unilateral declaration about missile defense:

The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed at Prague on April 8, 2010, may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America. Consequently, the extraordinary events referred to in Article XIV of the Treaty also include a build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America such that it would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear force potential of the Russian Federation.

The subject Treaty article referred to above is the “national soveriegnty” clause and states:

3. Each Party shall,in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other Party. Such notice shall contain a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests. This Treaty shall terminate three months from the date of receipt by the other Party of the aforementioned notice, unless the notice specifies a later date.

Same language as in the Moscow Treaty and all the way back to the ABM/SALT I Treaties.  In fact, only the US has exercised this type-option when it stepped away from the 1972 ABM Treaty to pursue a conventional missile defense system.  The fact of the matter is that neither the CONUS-based GMD system nor anything envisioned for the European PAA will constitute a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent in either capacity or capability, the Russians know this and the statement was made as much for domestic Russian political consumption as anything else; and US missile defense development and deployment will continue apace.

One may argue a treaty, any treaty is better than none.  SALT I pretty much disproved that and from that experience, with confidence building measures inherited from the INF Treaty, START I and the Moscow Treaty, we have a new nuclear arms control treaty that while not perfect, is still an improvement over the predecessors, works towards reducing the risks of nuclear war and proliferation and aims to keep a potentially ruinous nuclear arms race in check.  There is little to be gained in delaying or defeating ratification and much to be lost.  I have read in detail the Treaty and its supporting Protocols and in my estimation, believe it is in our interests that the Senate ratify the New START Treaty.

Catching Up: Russia, The PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM

Have been a bit sparing of late on posting here and at USNI, in large part because the day job(s) have been demanding their pound (more like tens of pounds) of flesh.  And developments appear to promise a major surge on one front in the next few weeks, so we’ll take advantage of the relative calm afforded during the next day or two to catch up on some previously reported events.  Today — Russia and some updates on the PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM…

17 июня 2010 года 17:30 | Сергей Турченко 17 June 2010 17:30 | Sergei Turchenko

Putin's Introduction to the PAK-FA (17 June 2010 | (c) Sergei Turchenko)

Russia: Putin Pledges 30 Billion Rubles for Fine-tuning PAK-FA

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

Russia’s fifth generation fighter program began roughly the same time as the US’ effort that yielded the F-22A, according to Russian sources.  Delays stemming from defense and industry reform and economic slowdown in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union drew out the program.  Cul-de-sacs beginning with the Berkut and later the MiG 1-44 added further delay until Sukhoi was back in charge of the project with the PAK-FA proposal.  Taking the occasion during a recent demonstration/test flight (16th since first flight in January?), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin identified about 90B rubles (руб) (~ US$ 3.3B ) in development funding for the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI), the Aircraft Construction Center at Zhukovsky and the PAK-FA.  60B руб is to go for building three additional tunnels at TsAGI and another 11B руб to the new center to be constructed at Zhukovsky.  The former will be spread out in installments over the next several years, the new center is slated for completion around the end of 2012.  As for the PAK-FA — I think the expression in the photo above bespeaks volumes.  As the US has discovered in the prolonged gestation periods for the F-22 and now the F-35 with commensurate rising production costs, the ticket for entry into the 5th generation fighter program is indeed an expensive one.  Despite happy-talk about the PAK-FA being “two and a half and three times less than of its foreign counterparts” it is still too expensive for the Russian economy.  Over 30B руб has been expended thus far on PAK-FA development and it is still sans the 5th gen engines necessary for all aspect stealth and a good bit of development remains on the weapons system.  Even with the promise of another 30B руб forthcoming, much like the F-35, the PAK-FA will be heavily reliant on outside funding to come close to meeting any kind of production numbers.  India has stepped to the plate, offering cash but also demanding a healthy portion of the early production, demanding 250 aircraft by 2017.  And those are to be two-seaters.

Despite the acclaim the PAK-FA has received, as an expensive sink-hole in the Russian re-armament program, it has garnered its fair share of domestic criticisms:

Independent analysts give an overall negative forecast for the national rearmament program. The country has virtually wasted the 20 years which have passed since the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasts.

Not a single new tank or fixed-wing aircraft has been developed since 1991, with only one helicopter being developed and used. “Fifth-generation planes are very expensive. Comparing total costs, Russia and the United States spend approximately the same amounts on their development and production,” Tsyganok told the paper. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta – translated)

Calvin Coolidge once waspishly commented on the high price of aircraft by asking why not buy one airplane and let pilots take turns flying it.  With the advent of triple-digit million dollar fighters, we may be reaching such a point and it is evident that the US isn’t the only nation happening upon this circumstance.  But, as far as the Russian leadership is concerned, for now at least the PAK-FA is flying, the same cannot be said about an even more vital element in the national defense plan, the Bulava SLBM…

Bulava SLBM to Resume Test Flights in August 2010

  President Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov observe the Borei-class SSBN, Yury Dolgoruky underway for sea trials. 16 July 2010 (c) Sergei Turchenko

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

A recent interview with the former commander of the Soviet and Russian Navies, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin (translated), was revealing on several fronts insofar as the much troubled Bulava is concerned.  Of first note was the fact that it appears testing of the Bulava will resume earlier (August 2010) than previously reported (November 2010 at earliest).  At the time of the previous announcement in May, it was stated that a production run of three identical missiles was required before the next round of tests began – whether the earlier date is a reflection of that requirement being dropped or discovery of the root cause of the series of failures (particularly with the liquid-fueled third stage*) remains to be seen.  Perhaps after having seen the head of the Strategic Missile Forces get sacked after less than a year on the job over probable readiness issues, Navy and industry found renewed enthusiasm for a more aggressive schedule.

The Bulava and its development trials and travails have served as a poster child for a larger view of a Russian defense industry that increasingly is finding it difficult to meet the demands for new forces while adjusting to the post-Soviet era.  Consolidation has struck the industry as hard, if not harder, than its US counterpart.  In his interview, ADM Chernavin pointed to the need for a replacement for the Sineva SLBM (ed: R-29RMU/RSM-54 Sineva/SS-N-23 SKIFF).  The Sineva, while an exceptional missile in service (duration and capability — the last test launch was to its full 11,547 km range) is also a completely liquid-fueled missile, utilizing exceptionally dangerous hypergolics, which present a hazard to the boat and crew as well as demanding special care in materials selection and construction to avoid/contain any leakage.  The drawbacks of hypergolics (ed. research and work on, I would note, have been part of the reason behind the paucity of posts – SJS) are the chief reason all US ICBMs and SLBMs as well as all new Russian ICBMs are solid-fuel.  An earlier attempt at a solid-fuel SLBM, the R-39 (NATO: SS-N-20 Sturgeon) brought forth a 10-warhead missile, but one that was exceptionally heavy, with a launch weight of 90 tons. A follow-on to the R-39, the R-39UTTH “Bark suffered three consecutive failures in its first stage in early testing and was canceled.  The Bulava followed in part, because the institute building it was also building the Topol-M land mobile ICBM and figured to gain efficiencies in development and production by emphasizing commonality between the two.

Chernavin points to the beginning of problems when the Bulava designers learned that, surprise, submarines move whereas the Topol, while a mobile missile, is fixed in place for launch.  Compounding the flawed foundation decision-making was a series of cost- and schedule decisions to speed up the development process and shaving tests.   The lead designer of the missile, Yury Solomonov, points the finger at Russia’s defense industry in general:

“I can say in earnest that none of the design solutions have been changed as a result of the tests. The problems occur in the links of the design-technology-production chain,” Solomonov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Tuesday.

“Sometimes [the problem] is poor-quality materials, sometimes it is the lack of necessary equipment to exclude the ‘human’ factor in production, sometimes it is inefficient quality control,” he said.

The designer complained that the Russian industry is unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with at least 50 of the necessary components for production of the weapon. This forces designers to search for alternative solutions, seriously complicating the testing process.

That and evident quality control problems have led to a test program with between 1 to 5 (depending on whom you are talking to) successes in 12 launch attempts. However, with nothing else even on the drawing boards and a new class of SSBNs designed such that the Bulava is the only missile they can take, the die has been cast.  Chernavin underscores this state of affairs with a verbal shrug and dose of fatalism, noting so much effort has already been spent that eventually “they will force it to fly” (“Но, уверен, «Булаву» все-таки заставят летать”).


* Why a liquid third stage?  That is the post-boost vehicle (PBV) that carries the MIRVs — a liquid-fuel engine allows controlled start/stops to precisely maneuver the PBV as it releases the MIRV payload.

New START Treaty: Text and Missile Defense

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the treaty cutting their nations' nuclear arsenals Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The new START Treaty was signed in Prague today and the text for both the Treaty (17 pages) and the Protocols (165 pages) are available.

On reading the text of the Treaty (still wading through the Protocols) am finding nothing untoward or diverging from what has been said here and elsewhere these past few days. Overall, it is a modest effort at reduction — nothing on the order of the original START reductions. It does re-establish an atmosphere of verification and compliance, though not as intrusive as the previous Treaty and includes use of “national technical means,” on-site visits and exchanges of telemetry data.

In the final months of negotiation there was a lot said on the Russian side about missile defense and linkages to the new Treaty – much more than reported in the Western press, by the way. Of relevance to this part of the discussion is Article III 7(a) which states:

“A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply.”

In other words, ABM and ASAT missiles that have been exclusively developed and tested for those purposes (e.g., SM-3 family) are exempt from the Treaty.

Note also that there is a withdrawal clause for “extraordinary circumstances” (Article XIV Section 3) which is a common clause for treaties of this nature and is not extraordinary for this treaty. In light of the Russian’s unilateral statement on missile defense, it may be highlighted in subsequent discussions. The text of the declaration follow:

“April 8, 2010

Statement by the Russian Federation on Missile Defence

The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed in Prague on April 8, 2010, can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.

Consequently, the exceptional circumstances referred to in Article 14 of the Treaty include increasing the capabilities of the United States of America’s missile defence system in such a way that threatens the potential of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation.”


Worth keeping an eye on as we move down the pike on the European PAA is the “qualitatively” part of the first sentence. Earlier (March 18) statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov singled out improved capabilities of the EPAA “by 2020” which coincides with introduction of the SM-3 BlkIIB.

Finally, at the signing ceremony, the President stated:

“President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense.”

How much this was intended to allay or soften the Russian unilateral statement and the substance of those future talks 9as well as the direction they will take the European PAA and other bi- and multi-lateral missile defense initiatives in various theaters and regions, remains to be seen.

The Prague Treaty: A Quick Overview

Well — they aren’t calling it the Prague Treaty per se — yet.  But the post-START Treaty is scheduled to be signed in Prague later this spring and represents some pretty major changes in the arms control world and respective stockpiles of the US and Russia:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release    March 26, 2010

Key Facts about the New START Treaty

Treaty Structure: The New START Treaty is organized in three tiers of increasing level of detail.  The first tier is the Treaty text itself.  The second tier consists of a Protocol to the Treaty, which contains additional rights and obligations associated with Treaty provisions.  The basic rights and obligations are contained in these two documents.  The third tier consists of Technical Annexes to the Protocol.  All three tiers will be legally binding.  The Protocol and Annexes will be integral parts of the Treaty and thus submitted to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

Strategic Offensive Reductions: Under the Treaty, the U.S. and Russia will be limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the Treaty enters into force.  Each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its strategic forces within the aggregate limits of the Treaty.  These limits are based on a rigorous analysis conducted by Department of Defense planners in support of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

Aggregate limits:

  • 1,550 warheads.  Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.
    • This limit is 74% lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
  • A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
  • A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
    • This limit is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty.

Verification and Transparency: The Treaty has a verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty.  Measures under the Treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring.   To increase confidence and transparency, the Treaty also provides for the exchange of telemetry.

Treaty Terms: The Treaty’s duration will be ten years, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement.   The Parties may agree to extend the Treaty for a period of no more than five years.  The Treaty includes a withdrawal clause that is standard in arms control agreements.  The 2002 Moscow Treaty terminates upon entry into force of the New START Treaty.  The U.S. Senate and the Russian legislature must approve the Treaty before it can enter into force.

No Constraints on Missile Defense and Conventional Strike: The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities.

I will be the first to admit (along with many others it seems in the arms control community) to still trying to intuitively puzzle out the “separate” and “combined” limits, but bigger picture see somethings of interest:

a) This is a “build-down” treaty, not one designed to forestall future developments (e.g., throw weight breakouts, air launched ballistic missiles, etc.) which speaks volumes to the current and future states of the strategic programs of the US and Russia.

b) For the US — B-1’s, SSGNs , conventional ballistic missiles (aka Prompt Global Strike) and missile defenses (both the ground-based BMDS and the forthcoming PAA) are off the books.  Russia ends up with a less obtrusive inspection/verification regime and a requirement for only 5 telemetry exchanges per year (per SECDEF Gates at the press briefing).

c) Empty launchers apparently won’t be counted – unlike START.  Bombers weight in the overall equation is lessened (as some commentators have pointed out, almost Reagan-esque as his assertion was the slower bombers weren’t as much of a threat as the missiles).

d) Though each bomber counts as one warhead — each bomber also counts as one delivery vehicle, which acts to limit temptation to build a large fleet of bombers armed with cruise missiles (that and the current state of air defenses).  On the future of the bomber force as an element of the traditional nuclear deterrent triad, an interesting and recent paper by the Mitchell Air Power Institute on what shape the deterrent force should take (Triad, Dyad, Monad?) asserts that:

(The) US Department of Defense should pursue an ICBM/SLBM Dyad as it moves to reshape its nuclear force posture at lower warhead levels. Essentially, the US is already moving in this direction: the ICBMs and SLBMs remain robust, with modernization scheduled and funded, but the aging ALCM calls into question the value of the B-52 fleet, while the modernized but very small B-2 force is assuming a niche role. In short, the United States will soon field a de facto nuclear Dyad.

and that for the near term the United States should

leverage the strengths of the ICBM and SLBM forces while minimizing the weaknesses of the nuclear-capable bomber as that leg of the Triad is phased out. Prudent decisions about nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for the future—under arms control ceilings limiting deployed weapons and launchers—demand deliberation within a framework of deterrent attributes and stabilizing outcomes such as offered here. We believe a Dyad of modernized ICBMs and SLBMs will provide for strategic nuclear deterrence and stability in the years ahead, while allowing and encouraging needed investments in long-range conventional strike.

All of which, along with the release of the NPR and expected forthcoming debate over PGS, should provide interesting fodder for deliberations over the size and shape of the US strategic deterrent force in the coming years.

I’ll continue turning over the whole numerical relationships — and hopefully we’ll have the actual treaty text to review and add insight in the near future.  In the meantime, it is a good sign that Sen Lugar (R-Ind.)  has voiced his approval on the treaty which I hope will be subject to a through, dispassionate review as it goes to ratification this summer More, definitely more, to follow.

Красная звезда вторник: Red Star Tuesday

bulavaBulava SLBM Update:  According to press reports, the star-crossed Bulava SLBM will go into serial production “soon” – most probably after the next test flight.  There is one more test shot scheduled for sometime later this month (after 21 Dec) after which it is anticipated that the new SLBM will be declared operational.  Nine tests of the SS-27 derived, solid-fueled SLBM have been attempted with between 4-6 failures in the test series.  Tentatively given the NATO designation SS-NX-30, the Bulava, as we have documented here previously, along with the a new-class SSBN (led by the Yuri Dogoruky) are the replacements for the Typhoon and its R-39 missiles.  Shorter and wider than the R-39, the Bulava would not be able to be backfitted to earlier SSBNs (save one highly modified Typhoon used as a test bed) and further failures would put the Russian sea-based missile leg at risk as there were no other missiles in development.

Красная звезда вторник (Red Star Tuesday): Blackjacks in Venezuela

(courtesy longtime reader SJBill)

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: russia tu-160)

Graphic of TU-160


Photo via Russian Navy Press Service, Alexander Smirnov

Also this note via RIA Novosti concerning the heavy cruiser “Peter the Great” and his accompanying ships:”A Russian naval task force departed Monday on a tour of duty in the Atlantic Ocean, including joint naval drills with the Venezuelan Navy in November”

Photo via Russian Navy Press Service, Alexander Smirnov


Others here and here .

Northrop-Grumman With Inside Track on Next-Gen Bomber?


At a cool (and covert) $2B, N-G’s Integrated Technology division has been funded to build a demonstrator which may be a twin-engine aircraft resembling an X-47B according to this AW&ST article released today. There is some discussion that an extended range, unmanned bomber will follow based on knowledge gained from the secret-demonstrator, but that runs counter to the discussion here (where the AF has said the next-gen bomber will carry nukes).

Oh, and how LO is this LO for the demonstrator supposed to be? How about an RCS of -70 dB./sq. meter — one-thousandth of the -40 dB. associated with the JSF, and one-tenth that of a mosquito. Literally a gnat’s ass…

The Next Nuclear Strategy for a New Administration – and Three Questions


The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.  The steps we are taking now to address these threats are not adequate to the danger. With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous. – Shultz, et al, WSJ 15 Jan 2008

Yesterday we published an article by an Indian strategy analyst making the case for India’s nuclear deterrent.  When the next Administration takes the reins of power in January 2009 it will face a different nuclear landscape than its immediate predecessors in the post-Cold War environment.  As such, it will be incumbent upon that Administration – whatever the party; to undertake a thorough review of the nuclear strategy of the United States and hopefully, in the process, avoid the temptation of pouring old wine in new flasks. 

There will be no lack of those volunteering advice, some sage, others – not so.  One of the more intriguing efforts has been led by a panel of experts whose portfolios in nuclear matters are long and deep – as well as bipartisan.  The quote above that led off this post began a follow-up article this past January by these four experts (George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn) who were certainly no shrinking doves in their former capacities.  Yet rather than sit around and wring their hands in anxiety over things the way they are, they have proposed a detailed course of action – first in 2007 and expanded in 2008;  that has gained a degree of visibility and support both domestically and abroad from allies and former foes.  Indeed, we strongly suspect that we shall see elements, if not the whole cloth, taken aboard as one or the other party candidate’s proposed initiatives in the nuclear realm.

Among the proposals in the 2007 article were changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time (and reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon), eliminating (not just withdrawing from deployment and stockpiling) short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed, halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.  To this they added in 2008 extending key provisions of the START I Treaty (scheduled to expire in Dec 2009), undertaking negotiations toward developing cooperative multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning system, and discarding any existing operational plans for massive attacks that still remain from the Cold War.  Any one of these would constitute a major step – together, it is a major change of course.  The question is would this be a path that is in the best interests of the US?

We’ve been given to much thought along those lines of late, prompted in part by our reading of Rhodes’ latest volume.  The genesis though is traced back to the Maritime Strategy which we were reviewing for another issue.  In the course of that read we were drawn back to two phrases – "(w)e believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars" and "(w)hile war with another great power strikes many as improbable, the near-certainty of its ruinous effects demands that it be actively deterred using all elements of national power."  There has been much written lately about the follow-on aspects of the MS, namely the force structure, but there is also an upward link to  national strategy that has not been fully explored. 

Consider – the second quote above is linked to one of the six strategic imperatives in the MS – ‘Deter Major War.’  Our national strategies (including the Nuclear Posture Review) call for capability- vice threat-based forces.  The section in the MS that describes the deterrence imperative goes on to say "(w)e will pursue an approach to deterrence that includes a credible and scalable ability to retaliate against aggressors conventionally, unconventionally, and with nuclear forces" (emphasis added).  Since we have removed tactical nuclear weapons from our ships we presume that alludes to the SSBN deterrent patrols.  Yet that is a mighty broad brush wielded in the previous sentence – what is the context of the aggressors?  Aggressors against the US? Or against some third party? Link back to the opening sentence, the one about preventing wars –  it leaves us pondering a situation where the Navy might be called upon in a brewing crisis between a nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.  In that context how credible is the current context of nuclear deterrence?  How would a conventionally armed force seek to deter war between two nuclear armed regional powers?  These are some of the issues that bear further examination and which seem to be overlooked in the force structure food fight.  To that end we are going to propose something a little different and at the same time, hopefully give voice and a platform to those of you who want to expand your views beyond  the comments block.  To wit:

  • Review the articles we will be posting over the next several days – some will be current, others older but no less relevant.  Most (hopefully) will be thought provoking and likely controversial – that is the intent.  For reference documents, see those posted in the Virtual Library especially in the "National Security Policy" and "WMD/Missile Defense" aisles (periodically check for updates – one of our tasks during this week of TDY is to spend time updating and adding documents to the library beginning with items like unclassified portions of the Nuclear Posture Review, etc.);
  • Consider the following three questions:

            1.  In the context of a nuclear multi-polar, post Cold War world, what is the relevance of nuclear weapons?

            2.  What is the deterrent value of nuclear weapons in that environment and what are the implications for conventional deterrence (especially as written in the MS)?

            3.  Is there still a role for arms control in this environment and if so, what form should it take (i.e., a series of bi-lateral agreements or an expansion of the START or START-like convention to a multilateral forum)?

If you are so moved (and we hope you are) provide your thoughts in a separate document and we will post it as a Guest Author with attribution as you see fit.  Specifics:

– Please keep to  700-900 words max

– send to steeljawscribeATgmailDOTcom – (you know what to change). 

– Provide the name you wish it published under. We will screen for gross spelling and grammatical errors and contact you directly if there are any subsequent issues with content change – we will not edit material because of content (so please, keep it professional) A page will be created for keeping track of posts in this category just as we have for Flightdeck Friday and other running topics.  (BTW – you needn’t be a nuclear wonk, or wonkette, to participate…)

Why are we doing this?  In part, because of an idea some of us have been discussing offline about how to generate wider discussion and what kind of venue to host therein.  Still very much in an embryonic stage so if you have ideas along those lines we would be interested as well (contact us offline for further discussion).  There won’t be an end date – at least as we see for now, and fully expect as we move through the general electoral season and into the transition period, more discussion will follow.  As the saying goes — stay tuned…  – SJS