Russia, U.S. Each Complete 18 New START Audits

A U.S. B-1B bomber. The United States has demonstrated to Russia that the bomber can no longer carry nuclear weapons, and the aircraft now does not count toward limitations under a strategic arms control treaty between the countries, the State Department said on Friday (U.S. Air Force photo).
A U.S. B-1B bomber. The United States has demonstrated to Russia that the bomber can no longer carry nuclear weapons, and the aircraft now does not count toward limitations under a strategic arms control treaty between the countries, the State Department said on Friday (U.S. Air Force photo).

The United States and Russia have each conducted 18 audits of the other nation's nuclear sites under a bilateral strategic arms control treaty that took effect one year ago, the highest quantity the pact permits over a 12-month period, the U.S. State Department said on Friday (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2011).

New START, which entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011, requires each government by 2018 to reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by this year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded strategic warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve. The treaty calls for the nations to regularly share quantities, siting and schematics of armament equipment and sites.

Information swaps mandated by the treaty have resulted in "very detailed" portraits of  the U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals that the audits can verify, according to a State Department fact sheet. Orbital surveillance instruments and other tools operated by each government offer additional means of monitoring compliance with the pact, the document adds.

The sides to date have swapped more than 1,800 notifications under the treaty. The details, traded through each side's Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, includes quantities, siting and operational specifications of armaments covered by the pact.

"These notifications help to track movement and changes in the status of systems," the State Department said. "For example, a notification is sent every time a heavy bomber is moved out of its home country for more than 24 hours."

Full-scope information caches traded twice each year by the countries offer a "full accounting of exactly where weapons systems are located, whether they are out of their deployment or operational bases and gone to maintenance, or have been retired," the document states. "This semiannual exchange, along with the mandatory treaty notifications that continuous updates provide, creates a 'living document' that provides a comprehensive look into each other’s strategic nuclear forces."

Moscow last March made the RS-24 ICBM and its firing unit available for examination as part of a New START mandate for system exhibitions. The United States had not previously observed up close the mobile system that can carry several warheads.

Washington provided comparable access to the B-1B and B-2A heavy bombers.

"Following the U.S. exhibition demonstrating that B-1B heavy bombers are no longer capable of employing nuclear armaments, these aircraft no longer count toward the central treaty limits regarding deployed heavy bombers," the department said.

In addition, each government has displayed apparatus intended for use in telemetric data swaps enabled by the treaty. The pact permits trading in 2012 of such details from ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile trials conducted last year.

"The treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) held its first session in April 2011, and has since met two additional times," the department said. "Under the treaty, this implementing body must meet at least two times per year" (U.S. State Department release, Feb. 3).

Feb. 6, 2012
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The United States and Russia have each conducted 18 audits of the other nation's nuclear sites under a bilateral strategic arms control treaty that took effect one year ago, the highest quantity the pact permits over a 12-month period, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.