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U.S. Releases New START Nuke Data

(Oct. 26) -A Russian RS-18 ICBM, shown ahead of a 2007 trial launch from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome. Russia has recently deployed additional strategic nuclear warheads, bringing the nation again over a cap that Moscow and Washington are required to meet within seven years under a bilateral arms control treaty (AP Photo). (Oct. 26) -A Russian RS-18 ICBM, shown ahead of a 2007 trial launch from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome. Russia has recently deployed additional strategic nuclear warheads, bringing the nation again over a cap that Moscow and Washington are required to meet within seven years under a bilateral arms control treaty (AP Photo).

The United States as of last month officially had 1,790 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, while Russia had fielded 1,566 long-range weapons, according to details from a semiannual information swap mandated under a strategic nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries (see GSN, Aug. 5).

The United States had 822 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers deployed at the time of the exchange, the State Department said in a fact sheet released last week. Russia wielded 516 such launch-ready delivery vehicles.

The count of U.S. bombers and ballistic missile firing platforms totaled 1,043, including fielded and reserve systems. Russia reported holding 871 bombers and missile firing platforms.

The New START pact, which entered into force on February 5, requires the sides to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 strategic systems permitted in reserve. The treaty calls for the nations to regularly share quantities, siting and schematics of armament equipment and sites (U.S. State Department release, Oct. 20).

Russia in an earlier accounting had come in under the 1,550 cap the nations are required to meet within seven years. The nation is now back over that maximum level, the Federation of American Scientists said on Monday in an analysis of the released data. Moscow has deployed 29 additional warheads on its ballistic missiles, placing it 16 weapons over the threshold.

"Because of the limited format of the released aggregate numbers, however, the changes are not explained or apparent. As a result, though not yet 1 year old, the New START treaty is already beginning to increase uncertainty about the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces," Hans Kristensen, director of the organization's Nuclear Information Project, said in the analysis.

The sides have carried out "a very modest combined reduction of 19 warheads and 65 delivery vehicles in seven months," Kristensen added. "Apparently [the] two nuclear superpowers are not in a hurry."

In addition, the countries possess "thousands" of strategic and tactical nuclear warheads not covered by the pact, the expert noted. "To put things in perspective, the U.S. military stockpile includes nearly 5,000 warheads; the Russian stockpile probably about 8,000. In addition, thousands of retired, but still intact, warheads are in storage for a total combined U.S. and Russian inventory of perhaps 19,000 warheads," he stated.

Russia's new warhead deployment occurred alongside the nation's five-system drop in the number of fielded delivery vehicles since last February, from 521 to 516, Kristensen wrote. Information released by the two governments does not make it possible to determine the fashion in which changes were occurring, he added: "As a result, transparency of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces is decreasing.

"Part of the explanation is the deployment of additional RS-24 ICBMs, which carry three warheads each. But that’s a limited deployment that doesn’t account for all. Other parts of the puzzle include continued reduction of the single-warhead SS-25 ICBM force, the operational status of individual Delta 4 SSBNs [ballistic-missile submarines], and possibly retirement of one of the aging Delta 3 SSBNs."

The United States, meanwhile, now has 10 fewer deployed warheads than in February, for a new total of 1,790, the expert said. The count of fielded delivery systems has dropped from 882 to 822, which he said "probably reflects the removal of nuclear-capable equipment from so-called 'phantom' bombers. These bombers are counted under the treaty even though they are not actually assigned nuclear missions. The U.S. has not disclosed the number, but another 24, or so, 'phantom' bombers probably need to be denuclearized. Stripping these aircraft of their leftover equipment reduces the number of nuclear delivery vehicles counted by the treaty, although it doesn’t actually reduce the nuclear force."

The Defense Department over the decade is likely to move to cut the number of deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles from 288 to 240, according to Kristensen. The count of operational silo-based ICBMs could also drop from 450 to 400 if Washington chooses to keep its strategic bombers, he added (see GSN, Oct. 14).

The newly released information demonstrates the sides "have gotten off to a slow start and excessive nuclear secrecy is reducing the international community’s ability to monitor and analyze the changes," Kristensen wrote.

"Russia essentially has seven and half years to offload 16 warheads from its force to be in compliance with New START by 2018. Not an impressive arms control standard. Instead, the task for Russian planners will be how to phase out old missiles and phase in new missiles. There will be no real constraint on the Russian force."

The new information also highlights the United States' significant edge over its former Cold War rival on strategic nuclear delivery systems, according to Kristensen. "Even as Russia deploys the RS-24 ICBM and Bulava SLBM in the coming years, the gradual retirement of the SS-18, SS-19, SS-25 and SS-N-18 could reduce the total number of delivery vehicles to perhaps 400 by the time the New START treaty enters into force in 2018."

Meanwhile, Washington today plans to keep 700 nuclear-weapon carriers through 2018, meaning at the next decade its force could be twice as large as Russia's. "Indeed, the U.S. ICBM force alone could at that time include as many delivery vehicles as the entire Russian triad," the expert noted.

"The U.S. force will retain a huge upload capability with several thousand nondeployed nuclear warheads that can double the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles if necessary," he wrote. "Russia’s ballistic missile force, which is already loaded to capacity, does not have such an upload capability.

"This disparity creates fear of strategic instability and is fueling worst-case planning in Russia to deploy a new 'heavy' ICBM later this decade," Kristensen wrote (Federation of American Scientists release, Oct. 24).

To date, the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers of the two governments have traded nearly 1,500 notifications regarding nuclear-weapon transfers, test-firings and alterations of information, according to the State Department. The countries have completed three displays mandated under the pact: one of Russia's RS-24 ICBM and firing equipment, one of the U.S. B-1 bomber and another of the U.S. B-2 bomber.

"To date, the U.S. has conducted 12 inspections (eight Type One, four Type Two); Russia has conducted 11 inspections (six Type One, five Type Two)," the State Department said. "These inspections have taken place at ICBM, SLBM, and heavy bomber bases; storage facilities; conversion or elimination facilities; and test ranges."

Type One audits address facilities with fielded and reserve strategic systems, while Type Two checks specifically address sites with only reserve systems, according to an analysis by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The initial effort to comply with the treaty "has been successful and is progressing smoothly," the fact sheet states. "The outstanding working relationship that developed during negotiations has carried over into implementation.

"As expected, there have been differences and concerns with implementation, but both sides have continued to work cooperatively to resolve them," the statement adds. "We look forward to reporting further success and additional updates as New START implementation continues" (U.S. State Department release).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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