Russia’s New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems: An Open-Source Technical Review

Russia’s New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems: An Open-Source Technical Review

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NTI has released the first detailed, exclusively open-source assessment of the five new nuclear weapon systems announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 along with a new analysis underscoring the need to extend the New START Treaty based on the report’s findings. Authored by Jill Hruby, NTI’s inaugural Sam Nunn Distinguished Fellow and a former director of Sandia National Laboratories, the report, Russia’s New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems: An Open-Source Technical Review, provides insight into the technical characteristics, deployment schedule, provides insight into the technical characteristics, deployment schedule, and military objectives for each of the five systems, plus one additional system that may be nuclear capable in the future.

The accompanying analysis, Russia’s New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems: Implications for New START, Future Arms Control, and Strategic Stability, by NTI experts Mark Melamed and Lynn Rusten, draws on Hruby’s technical assessment. The paper concludes that “extending New START would ensure that significant new Russian systems would be subject to limits and verification and would provide a forum for discussing the other strategic systems that are further away in time from deployment.”

From the Introduction:

Since the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, Russia has been working on advanced nuclear-weapon delivery systems that could evade evolving U.S. missile defenses. For years, the Russian efforts were kept largely under wraps, but in his 2018 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin began openly discussing the development of five new nuclear-weapon delivery systems. In his March 1 address that year, Putin spent about 45 minutes—a full 40 percent of the time—announcing the new nuclear-weapon delivery systems (and one additional laser system), complete with videos and graphics to emphasize that these new systems were state-of-the-art and near deployment-ready. In his 2019 address the following February, Putin announced another new weapon-delivery capability and provided an update on the status of the systems announced in 2018. In his addresses, Putin repeatedly stressed that these systems were designed to evade U.S.missile defenses being deployed globally at fixed sites and on mobile sea-based platforms.

Although it is hard to be certain why these developments were revealed, it is widely speculated that Putin intended to demonstrate strength to the Russian people just before a Russian presidential election, while simultaneously displaying Russian scientific and technological innovation to the United States and NATO. Putin’s clear message was that Russian innovation to evade U.S. missile defenses will preserve a formidable Russian nuclear deterrent force.

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The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index


The 2023 NTI Nuclear Security Index

“The bottom line is that the countries and areas with the greatest responsibility for protecting the world from a catastrophic act of nuclear terrorism are derelict in their duty,” the 2023 NTI Index reports.


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