More than 100 new nukes in northern waters

Latest data exchange on nuclear weapons held by Russia and the United States shows the first Post-Soviet increase in numbers of strategic warheads sailing the Barents- and White Sea.

The Bureau of Arms Control with the U.S. Department of State released the latest exchange of data under the New START treaty with Russia on October 1st.  

Compared to October 1st 2013, Russia’s number of both deployed nuclear warheads and deployed launchers has increased substantially.  The number of deployed ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles), SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) and Heavy Bombers (Tu-95 and Tu-160) increased from 473 in the autumn 2013 to 528 this autumn.

The increase in deployed nuclear warheads was 243, from 1,400 a year ago to 1,643 today.

The numbers listed in the U.S. fact sheet do not specify where and which launchers that are the reason for the increase. But, as reported by BarentsObserver this spring, the Northern fleet’s newest strategic missile submarine, the “Yury Dolgoruky”, got its full set of Bulava missiles in June.  The submarine can carry 16 missiles and each Bulava-missile can hold up to six warheads, making up for a total of 96 warheads on that single submarine. It is, however, unlikely that “Yury Dolgoruky” has 16 missiles with full set of warheads. Normally a ballistic missile submarine carries one or more missiles without warheads, ready for test-launches like the one from the second new Borey-class submarine, the “Vladimir Monomakh” on September 10th, as reported by BarentsObserver

Two submarines can hold 192 warheads
The blog-site Russian strategic nuclear forces, argues that it is most likely the two new Northern fleet submarines that make up for most of the increase in deployed strategic nuclear weapons in Russia over the last six months. Those two alone can hold 192 warheads, but since the increase, according to the official figures, is 131 since last information exchange in March, the two submarines are likely not fully loaded. 

Russian Northern fleet Delta-IV submarine in surface position in the Barents Sea.

The third Borey-class submarine, the “Aleksandr Nevsky” is still test-sailing from the yard in Severodvinsk and is therefore not included to the Northern fleet. In total, Russia will get eight new Borey-class submarines.

Russia’s other seabased launchers of ballistic missiles include six Delta-IV class submarines. They are sailing for the Northern fleet with homeport in Gadzhievo on the Barents Sea coast of the Kola Peninsula northwest of Murmansk.

Tactical nuclear weapons are not included in the exchange of information under the New START treaty and information about the amount of such warheads is uncertain.  

Four out of five warheads at Kola
Senior Research Fellow with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, Kristian Åtland, says to BarentsObserver that if the figures are correct, it means that 81,5 percent of Russia’s sea-based strategic nuclear weapons are deployed at the Kola Peninsula.

“If this is correct, it means that the number of sea-based strategic nuclear warheads on Kola has increased by 32 percent since last year,” Kristian Åtland says.

“It also means that 81,5 percent of of Russia’s sea-based nuclear weapons, 422 out of 518, is deployed at naval bases on the Kola Peninsula and only 18,5 percent, are with the Pacific fleet,” he says.

The defence researcher, however, says this could change over time, since some of the Borey-class submarines are planned to be based with the Pacific fleet.

“There is no doubt that the long-lasting period of disarmament now has changed to rearmament,” says Kristian Åtland.

Lavrov: Investment is long-overdue
Interviewed by RT last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argues that the investment in military hardware is a long-overdue modernization and not a sign of a looming new arms race.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“I don’t think we are on the verge of a new arms race. At least, Russia definitely won’t be part of it. In our case, it’s just that the time has come for us to modernize our nuclear and conventional arsenals,” Lavrov said and continued:

“We have a long-term armament program, which takes into account our economic situation and, of course, the need to have efficient and modern defensive capabilities to protect our national interest.”