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Last Updated: May, 2015

As a newly independent state, Kazakhstan quickly agreed to full nuclear disarmament and became an active participant in the major nonproliferation treaties and regimes.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Kazakhstan inherited 1,410 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on R-36M (NATO designation SS-18 "Satan") intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); X-55 (NATO: AS-15A "Kent") air launched cruise missiles (ALCM); and an undisclosed number of tactical nuclear weapons, making it the fourth largest nuclear weapons possessing state in the world. The newly independent Kazakhstan quickly agreed to full nuclear disarmament, however, and became an active participant in the major nonproliferation treaties and regimes.

Immediate efforts included the signing of the Almaty Declaration (29 December 1991); the Lisbon Protocol (23 May 1992); ratification of START I (2 July 1992); and membership as a non-nuclear weapon state in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (14 February 1994). By September 1996 all of Kazakhstan's nuclear warheads, ICBMs, ALCMs, and Tu-95s were either destroyed or transferred to the Russian Federation, and by September 1999 all of Kazakhstan's ICBM missile silos had been destroyed.

Kazakhstan currently also adheres to UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540), has joined the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (the Hague Code), and has applied for membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The country retains a small arsenal of short range ballistic missiles (SRBM) tipped with conventional high explosives (HE), which are designed and employed for conventional military operations rather than deterrence. Additionally, Kazakhstan possesses an active space program with significant dual-use infrastructure relevant to missile development.


Table 1 shows the basic design characteristics of Kazakhstan's ballistic missile arsenal. Kazakhstan's arsenal is limited to two Soviet era SRBM's: the OTR-21 "Tochka-U" (NATO: SS-21-B "Scarab-B"; and the R-300 "Elbrus" (NATO: SS-1C "Scud-B"). The Tochka-U is a solid propellant, inertial guidance, battlefield SRBM (BSRBM) designed for tactical operations. It employs either a high explosives fragmentation or submunition warhead designed for use against troop concentrations and critical infrastructure targets such as airfields and military facilities. The combined characteristics of a solid propellant, inertial guidance, a low Circular Error Probable (CEP) (95m), and the road mobile vehicle, make the Tochka-U an adequate battlefield weapon.

The Scud-B, a liquid propellant, inertial guidance, road mobile SRBM, is one of the most proliferated ballistic missiles in existence. Fielded with high explosives, a high Circular Error Probable (450m) makes the Scud-B an imprecise and therefore ineffective battlefield weapon.

Kazakhstan inherited its ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union, and the country currently does not have an active missile program. Kazakhstan does possess significant infrastructure, through its space program, with dual-use utility for missile development and testing. This includes relevant academic and research institutions, assembly buildings, launch pads, propellant production facilities, and radar and tracking components/equipment, among others.

Kazakhstan's Space Program

The National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan (KazCosmos) was officially established in March 2007. Kazakhstan has drafted a national strategy for "Development of Space Activities" through 2020. [1] The 2020 plan is an extension of the 2011-2015 plan, which lists the following strategic goals: [2]

  • Creation and development of target space systems
  • Creation and development of ground based space infrastructure
  • Development of scientific and scientific-technological base for space activities
  • Realizing target projects in the area of space systems applications
  • Education and training of specialists
  • Creating a legal framework for space activities

The foundation of Kazakhstan's space program is the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the largest and most active space complex in the world. The Cosmodrome covers 6,717 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Moldova, and includes 15 launch pads, 11 assembly buildings, propellant and fuel facilities, 5 tracking and control centers, 9 tracking stations, and testing facilities, among other facilities. [3, 4]

Currently, Kazakhstan leases the Cosmodrome to Russia, having recently extended the lease through 2050 at a price of $115 million a year. [5] Russia uses the Baikonur complex for both civilian and military purposes, including all International Space Station (ISS) flights and ICBM tests. [6] Russia and Kazakhstan had agreed to jointly build the Baiterek Complex, a space launch facility at Baikonur, designed to launch Angara A5 rockets. Construction was to be completed in 2013; however it was postponed and then suspended due to organizational, legal and financial difficulties. [7] In February 2015, Astana announced that plans were underway to complete the project by 2022. [8]

In addition to the Baikonur contract, Russia has involved Kazakh scientists in design and construction projects, and trained Kazakh astronauts for participation in the International Space Station. In June 2006, Kazakhstan launched its first satellite, KazSat, in an official ceremony with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev present. The KazSat, built by Russia's Khrunichev Institute, was launched on a Russian Proton booster rocket. [9] On 8 June 2008, however, KazSat stopped broadcasting due to a malfunction of its on-board digital computing system. [10] Attempts to restore the work of the satellite failed, and it was declared inoperative in November 2008. [11] The second KazSat satellite, KazSat-2, is in orbit and has been operating since November 2011. [12] KazSat-3 was sent into orbit in April 2014. [13]

To further facilitate development of its space industry and technological exchange, Kazakhstan has applied to become a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime. However, the MTCR has not accepted new members since the 2004 accession of Bulgaria.

Missile Defense

Kazakhstan is working closely with Russia in air and missile defense. On 4 March 2009 Kazakhstan signed an agreement with Russia to purchase 10 batteries of S-300PS (NATO designation SA-10D "Grumble") surface-to-air (SAM) defense systems, with deliveries to take place from 2009 to 2011. [14] In August 2008, Russia and Kazakhstan expanded cooperation by agreeing to the establishment of a joint regional air and missile defense system. The agreement calls for free-of-charge deployments of S-300PMU-1 (NATO: SA-20 "Gargoyle") SAM systems throughout Kazakhstan. [15] The S-400 "Triumf" (NATO: SA-21 "Growler") SAM is to become the centerpiece of Russia's air defense system by 2020. The S-400 will be deployed to Kazakhstan in 2015. [16] On December 30, 2013, Russia ratified an agreement for the “Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan,” which will be an integral part of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS) joint air defense infrastructure. [17]

Kazakhstan is home to the Sary-Shagan missile range, Russia's primary anti-ballistic missile (ABM) testing site. Sary-Shagan is strategically located 1,600km from Kapustin Yar, Russia's primary ICBM test site, and is equipped with advanced tracking and radar equipment. Sary-Shagan is currently under lease to the Russian Ministry of Defense. A few kilometers away from the missile range, in Balkhash, is a Russian early warning missile defense radar system.


ICBM Force and Silo Dismantlement

The ICBM force deployed in Kazakhstan consisted of 104 R-36M ICBMs tipped with 1,040 warheads, deployed at two missile bases: Zhangiz-Tobe (also known as Solnechnyy), Semipalatinsk Oblast; and Derzhavinsk, Turgay Oblast. A total of 148 silos and other structures, including 104 R-36M launch silos, 16 launch control centers, two R-36M training silos, and 26 other silo structures were located at four sites: Zhangiz-Tobe missile base; Derzhavinsk missile base; Leninsk test range (Baikonur Cosmodrome); and Balapan test range, Semipalatinsk Test Site. By 25 April 1995, all 1,040 nuclear warheads associated with the SS-18 ICBMs were transferred to Russia. All 104 SS-18 ICBMs were removed to Russia for dismantlement by 5 September 1996. [18] Destruction and dismantlement of all 148 missile silos and silo structures was carried out in a two-phase program, ending on 30 September 1999. In Phase I, the United States awarded contracts through the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to two Kazakh firms to remove silo equipment deemed valuable to the government of Kazakhstan. Russian strategic missile forces then destroyed silo headworks from April 1994 to August 1996 under an agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan and Russia. In Phase II, from July 1996 to September 1999, U.S. Department of Defense contractors helped Kazakhstan with clean-up and final dismantlement of the destroyed silos. Although all ICBMs and warheads were removed from Kazakhstan by 1995, some SS-19 and SS-18 missiles have been converted into launch systems for commercial satellites. These converted missiles, now designated Rokot and Dnieper, are launched at Baikonur Cosmodrome from special ICBM silos spared from destruction for use in commercial satellite launches. [19]

Heavy Bombers/ALCM Force

A squadron of 40 Tu-95 heavy bombers equipped with X-55 [NATO Designation AS-15A 'Kent'] ALCMs, tipped with 370 warheads, was stationed at Shagan Aerodrome, Semipalatinsk Test Site. Russia removed the 40 Tu-95 bombers and ALCMs from Shagan Aerodrome in February 1994. All 370 warheads associated with the Tu-95 bombers were removed by 25 April 1995. Seven obsolete 1955-vintage bombers left behind by Russia were dismantled by August 1997 under the CTR program.

Recent Developments and Current Status

Kazakhstan continues to show no interest in pursuing a missile program, instead using its legacy missile related infrastructure and expertise to develop its space program. Kazakhstan continues to actively pursue MTCR membership as a means to ensure access to dual-use rocket technologies, and to demonstrate its commitment to nonproliferation to the international community. While Kazakhstan’s application to join the MTCR remains under review, in the interim they have committed to uphold the MTCR Guidelines and its Equipment, Software and Technology Annex. [20]

Kazakhstan considered making the Baikonur Cosmodrome a purely commercial facility, and in 2009 imposed a ban on test launches of Russian ICBM's. However, in October 2010 Kazakhstan lifted this ban, and Russia has resumed ballistic missile testing at the site. [21] Russia’s lease on the site is valid through 2050, and Russia will continue to use Baikonur for both civilian and military purposes. In exchange for continued Russian use and management of the site, Kazakhstan receives yearly rent, along with access to Russian technologies, training, and equipment to further develop its domestic space program. On 24 December 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a formal, three-year roadmap for the joint use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. [22]

[1] "The Republic of Kazakhstan Space Activity," Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum, www.aprsaf.org.
[2] Decree of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, "Strategicheski Plan Natsialnova Kosmicheski Agyenstva Respublika Kazakhstana na 2011-2015 [Strategic Plan of the National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2011-2015]," National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazcosmos.gov.kz, 17 February 2011.
[3] "Centers: Baikonur: Regions and Facilities," RussianSpaceWeb.com.
[4] "Baikonur Tekhnicheskoye Opisaniye [Baikonur Technical Writings]," www.atlasaerospace.net.
[5] Vladimir Karnozov, "Russia and Kazakhstan extend space deal," Flight International, 20 January 2004, p. 25, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[6] "Baikonur Cosmodrome," NASA: Space Station Assembly, www.nasa.gov.
[7] Anatoly Zak, “Baiterek,” Russian Space Web, 3 December 2013, www.russianspaceweb.com.
[8] Julia Rutz, "Projects to Advance Kazakh Space Industry Near Completion," Astana Time, 4 February 2015, www.astanatimes.com.
[9] Frank Mooring Jr., "KazSat-1 Launched," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 26 June 2006, p. 17, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[10] "Kazakhstan admits losing satellite," RIA Novosti, 2 December 2008, en.rian.ru.
[11] "Kazakhstan admits losing satellite," RIA Novosti, 2 December 2008, en.rian.ru.
[12] "Khrunichev Loses KazSat-1," Satellite Today, 4 December 2008, www.lexisnexis.com.
[13] Rachel Scharmann, "Russia Dual Launches KazSat 3 and Loutch 5V Satellites," Satellite Today, 30 April 2015, www.satellitetoday.com.
[14] "Russia to deliver S-3oo air defense system to Kazakhstan," RIA Novosti, 8 December 2010, en.rian.ru.
[15] "Kazakhstan poluchit bezplatna do dyesati kompleksov S-300 [Kazakhstan to receive up to 10 S-300 complexes free of charge]," Vesti, 10 December 2010, Vesti.kz.
[16] "Kazakhstan to get first S-400 air defense system after 2015," Tengri News, 1 February 2012, en.tengrinews.kz.
[17] “Law on Ratification of Agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan on Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System,” Russian Presidential Executive Office, 30 December 2013, eng.kremlin.ru.
[18] “CTR Assistance - What It Does: Kazakhstan,” US Department of Defense, Undated, www.dod.mil.
[19] Anatoly Zak, “Dnepr,” Russian Space Web, August 22, 2013, www.russianspaceweb.com; Anatoly Zak, “Rockot,” Russian Space Web, 11 September 2013, www.russianspaceweb.com.
[20] “On Kazakhstan's Efforts to Join Missile Technology Control Regime” Embassy of Kazakhstan to the United Kingdom, November 2010, www.kazembassy.org.uk.
[21] "Kazakhstan lifts ban on launches of Russian ballistic missiles," RIA Novosti, 8 November 2011, en.rian.ru.
[22] "Russia and Kazakhstan Agree 3-Year Space Center Deal," RIA Novosti, 25 December 2013, en.rian.ru.

Get the Facts on Kazakhstan
  • Transferred 1,410 nuclear warheads to Russia following the Soviet collapse
  • Over 10,000 kg of HEU and 3,000 kg of Pu leftover from the Soviet era remain on Kazakh territory
  • Once home to the world's largest anthrax production facility at Stepnogorsk

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.