Inside the Ring: Russia builds up, U.S. down

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As the Obama administration prepares to launch a new round of strategic nuclear missile cuts, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are undergoing a major modernization, according to U.S. officials.

Russia’s military announced last month that as part of the nuclear buildup, Moscow later this year will deploy the first of its new intercontinental ballistic missiles called the Yars-M.


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Details of the missile are being kept secret, but it has been described as a fifth-generation strategic nuclear system that Russian officials say will be able to penetrate U.S. missile defenses using a new type of fuel that requires a shorter burn time for booster engines.

The solid-fueled, road-mobile ICBM was tested a year ago, and it is said to have an increased payload capacity for a warhead weighing up to 1.5 tons. The range is 6,835 miles. Like earlier mobile missiles known as SS-29s and SS-27s, the new ICBM is expected to have up to 10 multiple, independently targetable warheads.

Retired Russian strategic forces commander Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin has said the Yars-M “is one of the military technological measures that the Russian military-political leadership has devised in response to the development of a global missile-defense system by the Americans.”

Last year, a Russian official explained the new missile’s fuel and anti-missile defense capabilities in an interview with Moskovski Komsomolets. The strategic nuclear weapons specialist said the high-tech fuel “allows for the reduction of the working time of the engines during the boost phase of flight, when it [the missile] is most vulnerable to detection by defensive means.”

“As a result, we achieve the most complex part of the rocket boost so fast that the enemy does not have time to calculate its trajectory and, therefore, cannot destroy it,” the official said. “That is, we can say that our ability to overcome missile defense will be significantly increased.”

Russia also announced last month that it has launched a new research-and-development program for a modernized rail-mobile ICBM. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told RIA Novosti April 23 that work on this rail-based missile is in the early stages and could be deployed by 2020.

Russia, during the Soviet era, was the first to deploy a rail-mobile nuclear missile system known as the SS-24.

The rail-based missile is being developed by Russia’s Moscow Institute of Thermal, which also is building the new Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles, as well as existing land-based Topol ICBMs.

The rail-mobile ICBMs were prohibited under earlier versions of the U.S.-Russia START treaties. However, the 2010 New START treaty did not prohibit rail-mobile basing of missiles, and Moscow is taking advantage of the omission.

In addition to the new strategic missiles, Russia is building a new strategic bomber that is expected to be deployed by 2020.

By comparison, President Obama is expected to announced soon that he will seek a new round of talks with Russia aimed at cutting U.S. nuclear forces even further than the 1,550 deployed warheads under the 2020 New START treaty.

The cuts are expected to be justified under a Pentagon strategic review that was completed months ago but withheld from release. That report is expected to suggest that U.S. warhead levels could be cut to as few as 1,000, causing critics to say the administration is undermining U.S. deterrence and the ability to extend the nuclear umbrella to European and Asian allies.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, said in a recent speech that the administration is short between $1 billion and $1.6 billion that was promised in 2010 for nuclear modernization.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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