Designer announces changes in Russian nuclear missiles

Moscow. (RIA Novosti defense commentator Viktor Litovkin)

Russia will announce changes in its strategic nuclear capability by the end
of the year, said Yury Solomonov, head and chief designer of the Moscow
Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), the designer of ground- and
sea-launched nuclear missiles.

The chief designer, who has the ground-launched Topol-M (SS-25 Sickle) and
the sea-launched Bulava-30 (SS-NX-30) intercontinental ballistic missile
systems on his record, did not enlarge on details but stated that Moscow
would have no less than 2,000 nuclear warheads by 2011, when the
U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) will be nearing
expiry. This is in line with the SORT's requiring that both sides should
reduce their nuclear stockpiles to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 31,
2012.

The statement was prompted by a question how Russia was going to maintain
the SORT-approved number of warheads as many decommissioned 10-MIRV
R-36MUTTKh/R-36M2 Voevodas (SS-18 Satan) and six-MIRV UR-100NUTTKhs (SS-19
Stiletto) were being replaced every year by single-warhead silo-based and
road-mobile RT-2PM2 Topol-Ms.

"I cannot answer this question in detail right now," Solomonov said. "This
is a confidential issue pertaining to the relations between our country and
the United States. However, we are going to notify Washington of upcoming
changes in our strategic nuclear forces within two months, and, I think, the
information will become public by the end of the year."

Importantly, Solomonov said Russia was ahead of the rest of the world in
missile defense penetration capability by at least 15 to 20 years. In the
light of his earlier remarks that technologically both new missiles could
carry no less than three warheads, defense experts are now convinced the
announced changes will have to do with the number of warheads per missile.

Moreover, media reports, citing Moscow's recent disclosure of a six-MIRV
Bulava, designed as part of Russia's effort to implement the Memorandum to
START I (expires in 2009), suggested the number of MIRVs per missile was
likely to grow to 10 shortly.

Solomonov made two other remarks that look important enough if put together.
As the first road mobile missile regiment is to enter active service in
2008, the SS-NX-30 also has a three-year flight test program ahead, which
means that the first Bulava-armed nuclear submarine Yury Dolgoruky (Project
955 Borei) will be commissioned in the same year and, probably, that the
date should be seen as the next landmark for the qualitative development of
Russia's nuclear capability. -0-