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Rising Nuclear Risk due to Russia Ukraine war , and great power modernization race for all the three legs of their strategic Triad

President Vladimir Putin in Sep 2022 ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he’d be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. Putin said that top government officials in several unnamed “leading” NATO countries had spoken of potentially using nuclear weapons against Russia. He also accused the West of risking “nuclear catastrophe,” by allowing Ukraine to shell the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which is under Russian control, something Kyiv has denied.


But by formally annexing Ukrainian territories, Putin is giving himself the potential pretext to use nuclear weapons from Russia’s arsenal, the largest in the world. Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows the use of such weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against it or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation.


Russia,  US and China are  rapidly upgrading and modernizing their strategic triad. China is slowly expanding and upgrading its arsenal, and relations between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are as tense as they have been in decades.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing push to modernize 90 percent of his country’s nuclear force, the largest in the world, by 2021. The Chinese researchers  analysis mentioned critical improvements to Russia’s Topol intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the highly-anticipated R2-28 Sarmat, or “Satan 2,” ICBM among other developments.



China was earlier believed to possess around 270 nuclear warheads, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, placing it behind Russia, the U.S., France and the U.K. in terms of stockpile size. China has a powerful arsenal of tactical, cruise, medium-range, long-range and ICBMs launched by air, land and sea, including the mobile-launched Dongfeng (“East Wind”) or DF-41, believed to be the world’s longest ranged missile at a projected 7,500 miles.


Current estimates say—based on data collated and analyzed by experts in the US—that China has approximately 350 nuclear warheads ready for delivery.  These warheads are ready for delivery through approximately 280 land-based and 72 sea-based ballistic missiles. Additionally, China is estimated to have 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers.


Observers in the US have postulated that China is constructing over 200 new missile silos in the mainland, which could bring its total silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) count far higher than the 20 it has maintained over the last couple of decades. China is also expanding its arsenal with more road-based ICBMs as well as strategic nuclear submarines. The US Department of Defense estimates that China’s nuclear warhead numbers may be as high as 700, ready for delivery by 2027, and potentially 1,000 warheads by 2030



U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Control Agreements - Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

In a series of public and private comments, the president and Trump administration officials have made clear they are seeking a new strategy that would revive the treaty — but only if all countries that now field such weapons are willing to curb or eliminate them. That would be an enormously ambitious task. It would require China, India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea to sign on to the same agreement.  The race between Russia and US could spill over to other these countries as well.


The threat is further enhanced due to up gradation and modernization of strategic triad. All three Powers of the “Great triangle” of the Asia-Pacific region formed by the United States, Russia, and China are upgrading and modernizing, all of the three legs of their strategic triad to provide a strong deterrent against different perceived adversary threats. The “Great Triangle” is particularly important in both geopolitical and military-strategic terms. The strategic arsenals and military programs of the two traditional superpowers and the steady buildup of the nuclear and missile capabilities of China, the newly emergent superpower of the twenty-first century, give global significance to the Great Triangle they form,” said Alexei Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin of Carnegie Moscow Center – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.



China’s air force is working on two new stealth bombers to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-era Xian H-6 bombers, a new US intelligence report says. While Beijing confirmed the existence of one, the B-2 Spirit-like H-20, in October  2018, the second is being called the JH-XX by observers and is rumored to be a medium bomber. A new report from the Carnegie Center for Global Policy states that Beijing is seeking an unknown number of new nuclear submarines. The exact number is unknown, but the rule of thumb that a nuclear power needs four submarines to keep one on station suggests China would need to double its missile sub fleet from four to eight to see concrete improvements in the number of missiles it keeps at sea. China appears to be gradually increasing its nuclear forces as it modernizes the arsenal. The Chinese military has expressed its desire to enhance its nuclear weapons to keep up with the U.S. and Russia, two leading powers that have increasingly committed to modernizing their own arsenals.



Or the Russians, for example, today still have nuclear torpedoes for their submarines that could be used to shoot other submarines, but with nuclear explosives, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.


The Biden Administration unveiled a new defense strategy in Oct 2022 that puts the U.S. military on a Cold War-footing with China and Russia, detailing a plan to confront two nuclear peer adversaries for the first time in history with a multi-year build-up of modernized weaponry, enhanced foreign alliances and a top-to bottom overhaul of the American nuclear arsenal.


A draft version of President Donald Trump’s upcoming Nuclear Posture Review leaked by The Huffington Post revealed controversial plans to loosen restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons and install low-yield, tactical nuclear devices on submarine-launched Trident II D5 ballistic missiles.


It characterizes China as a long-term “pacing challenge” with its growing power projection in the Pacific region, while deeming Russia to be an immediate “acute threat” amid its ongoing war with Ukraine and continual threats to launch a nuclear strike.

“We chose the word ‘acute,’ carefully,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon. “Unlike China, Russia can’t systemically challenge the United States over the long-term, but Russian aggression does pose an immediate and sharp threat to our interests and values.” In recent weeks, Russian missile strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine and unfounded claims of a pending “dirty bomb” detonation have sparked fears the world is inching ever closer to the brink of nuclear war. The Administration has deep concerns about the conflict escalating, Austin said, but remains committed to continuing to support Ukraine with weapons and the means to defend itself.


Arms Control Agreements

In addition, the U.S. decision to violate the terms of the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal threatens to reignite a proliferation crisis in the Middle East. After the United States killed a top Iranian military commander in an airstrike in Baghdad, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by any restrictions on its nuclear program. Those limits were the centerpiece of the 2015 nuclear agreement that had checked Tehran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon before the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the multiparty accord in 2018.


Experts are worried that New START may soon join other defunct arms control agreements, including one prohibiting ground-based intermediate-range missiles scrapped in 2019 and another allowing overflights of nuclear facilities likely to end this year. On October 20 2018, US President Donald Trump announced he intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) – an arms control treaty with Russia that contributed to the end of the Cold War. The treaty prohibited the development, testing and possession of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500km to 5,500km, whether armed with nuclear or conventional warheads. That will open the door to missiles with a range beyond 500 kilometers. Russia followed suit and reports say it is aiming to create new land-based missiles within the next two years. Reports also say the US is allocating funds for the research and development of such missiles. With the INF Treaty now dead and another arms control treaty, New Start, set to expire in 2021, the threat has arisen of  new nuclear race between the two major nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.


At the start of 2018 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea)—possessed approximately 14 465 nuclear weapons, of which 3750 were deployed with operational forces. Nearly 2000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert. According to SIPRI Report as of 2017   United States had 1750 deployed strategic warheads, compared to 1,600  for Russia. The number of deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers for the United States was 794, compared to 528 for Russia. According to SIPRI Report as on 2016, the deployed warheads have increased to 1930 of USA and 1790 of Russia.


Overall, inventories of nuclear warheads continue to decline. This is mainly due to the USA and Russia, which collectively account for approximately 92 per cent of global nuclear weapons, reducing their strategic nuclear forces in line with the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START). The total nuclear warheads declined marginally from a total of approximately 15,395 nuclear weapons in 2016 compared with 15,850 in early 2015, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s 2016 annual nuclear forces data, which highlights the current trends and developments in world nuclear arsenals. The decrease in the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world is due mainly to Russia and the USA—which together still account for more than 93% of all nuclear weapons—further reducing their inventories of strategic nuclear weapons.


Despite making reductions in their arsenals, both the USA and Russia have extensive and expensive programmes under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities. The other nuclear weapon-possessing states have much smaller arsenals, but have all either begun to deploy new nuclear weapon delivery systems or announced their intention to do so.


Nuclear forces  are very expensive to develop, because they have to go through a very long testing program, both for delivery systems and for the warheads themselves, command and control, all these elements that constitute a nuclear posture. And that costs a lot of money to develop. Once you have it, you can maintain it at much less of a cost. You need to overhaul it from time to time. So you don’t want too much nuke and you don’t want too much nuke to eat up too much of the total defense budget, because then you have to take that money from other conventional programs that might actually be more usable and more vital for the military operations you’re planing to do, said said Hans Kristensen.


India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles and missile delivery capabilities. North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for approximately 10 nuclear warheads.Pakistan is believed to have 140-150 nuclear warheads this year, 10 more than last year. In contrast, India is said to have 130-140 nuclear warheads, according to the annual nuclear forces data by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  However, it is unclear whether North Korea has produced or deployed operational weapons.


“Despite the ongoing reduction in the number of weapons, the prospects for genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament remain gloomy,” comments Shannon Kile, Head of the SIPRI Nuclear Weapons Project. “All the nuclear weapon-possessing states continue to prioritize nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of their national security strategies.”


The major powers are also complying with New START that came into force in February 2011. Under the treaty deployed strategic nuclear warheads, those meant to travel long distances, in Russia and the United States are capped at 1,550 each by Feb 2018. It also limits the number of deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800. The treaty allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits.


Therefore,  despite the implementation of the bilateral Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) since 2011, the pace of their reductions remains slow.


While US and Russia have parity in deployed strategic warheads, U.S. military holds a substantial numerical advantage in the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles. “These numbers conceal an additional area of U.S. advantage. The U.S. military has “downloaded” all of its ICBMs and most, if not all, of its SLBMs. As a result, the missiles carry fewer warheads than their maximum loadings,” says Steven Pifer


The Trident D-5 SLBM can carry eight warheads. Under New START, the Trident D-5s carry an average of only four to five warheads. All Minuteman III ICBMs have been downloaded to carry a single warhead, even though two-thirds of them could carry three. “The U.S. military also maintains a large number of non-deployed nuclear warheads in storage. If New START were to break down, the United States could add hundreds of nuclear warheads—well over 1,000—to its strategic ballistic missile force. The Russian strategic ballistic missile force has nowhere near the capacity to match that”, says says Steven Pifer.


However the Russians have between 2,000-6,000 tactical, or theater, nuclear weapons while the United States deploys 500 such weapons — all in the NATO European Theater. Retired Admiral Richard Mies, the former Commander of the United States Strategic Command, says of the imbalance between the U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead stockpiles: “They reflect a growing disparity in total warheads because of the large Russian advantage in small, short range tactical nuclear warheads that are not subject to any arms control limits.


Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.


Nuclear Modernization

The strategic triad is formed by  land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)  stored in silos containing one or many nuclear warheads, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and land-based long-range strategic bombers  that carry gravity bombs of different kinds, but also long-range cruise missiles. The triad gives the commander in chief the possibility to use different types of weapons for the appropriate strike: ICBMs allow for a long-range strike launched from a controlled or friendly environment. SLBMs, launched from submarines, allow for a greater chance of survival from a first strike, giving the commander a second-strike capability. Strategic bombers have greater flexibility in their deployment and weaponry.


China’s rapid military buildup means the country is closer to joining the U.S. and Russia as the top nations capable of deploying nuclear weapons on land, in the air and at sea, the Pentagon warned in a new report. China’s progress in upgrading its strategic bombers to carry nuclear payloads puts it on the cusp of achieving a “triad” of delivery systems, punctuating a two-decade investment that that coincided with the country’s economic rise, according to an annual Defense Department report to Congress published in Sep 2020. “Over the next decade, China will expand and diversify its nuclear forces, likely at least doubling its nuclear warhead stockpile,” according to the 200-page report.


They threat is also due to fourth leg that is a nonstrategic leg, a tactical leg. Tactical nuclear weapons are designed to be used on a conventional battlefield, rather than launched from afar, and are generally smaller in explosive power. These  shorter-range fighter aircraft and shorter-range missile systems that can for example go on ships and submarines. They may be designed to blow up other ships or attack land targets.

At the same time, both Russia and the USA have extensive and expensive nuclear modernization programmes under way. The USA, for example, plans to spend $348 billion during 2015–24 on maintaining and comprehensively updating its nuclear forces. Some estimates suggest that the USA’s nuclear weapon modernization programme may cost up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years.



US Strategic Triad Modernization

According to experts, U.S. draft suggested committing up to $1.2 trillion for three decades of upgrades to the Pentagon’s nuclear triad, including B-21 Raider strategic bombers in the air, Columbia-class nuclear submarines at sea and various nuclear missiles and bombs deployed at air, land and sea. Of that, $17 billion over the next decade will go toward building two new tactical, low-yield nuclear weapons and increasing U.S. capacity to produce plutonium pits, the core of nuclear weapons.


David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for policy, said the United States put off modernizing the three legs of its nuclear deterrent for almost 20 years, he told USNI News following a presentation at the Brookings Institution. “In the 2000s, we skipped a generation” in modernizing the triad – ballistic missile submarines, bombers and ballistic missiles. He added that the United Kingdom and France, both nuclear powers and NATO allies, reduced their weapons stockpiles while continuing to modernize their nuclear forces during that same time. The United Kingdom has sea-based ballistic missile submarines; France has both submarines and aircraft capable of delivery of nuclear weapons.


The drivers for U.S. strategic modernization are uncertainty of Iranian or a North Korean nuclear capability and fears of a rapidly developing capability of nuclear China and Russia.


While currently US enjoy large advantage in its strategic arsenal, The Heritage Foundation’s “2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength” evaluated the health of the U.S. nuclear complex according to nine categories. In four of those categories—warhead modernization, delivery systems modernization, nuclear weapons complex and nuclear test readiness—the complex was rated as “weak” (the second worst rating possible).


One of the main factors behind these low scores is sequestration. Its “automatic pilot” budget regimen threatens sustained and predictable funding—a major problem for addressing issues within the nuclear complex, says Michaela Dodge. “Another major factor contributing to lower scores are the government’s conflicting policies regarding the nuclear complex. We say we care about the nuclear force and the complex that supports it, yet manpower and resources available to execute the nuclear mission have been steadily declining until recently.”


The US administration is planning a three-decade-long plan costing more than $1 trillion, with $350 billion in the first decade alone. The United States remains the world’s most potent nuclear force, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said. But the nation cannot be complacent, especially at a time when Russia and China are moving to modernize and diversify their nuclear capabilities and when the core components of the U.S. nuclear capability are aging.


“We are not interested in pursuing a repeat of the Cold War, but we must recognize that our adversaries have not reciprocated our commitment to reducing the potential role of nuclear weapons in war,” Goldfein said. “As we face this return to great power competition, we must acknowledge that our nuclear deterrent is a national asset and therefore demands a national commitment,” he said. ” … To compete, deter, and if deterrence fails to win in this new era of great power competition, nuclear modernization is a fundamental necessity.”


However, a new report by the Arms Control Association, provided to Foreign Policy ahead of its release, echoed Smith’s comments, calling US’s nuclear expansion “unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe.” “The United States maintains a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required to deter and respond to a nuclear attack against itself or its allies,” according to the report, which was written by Kingston Reif and Alicia Sanders-Zakre. “The plans would increase the risks of miscalculation and unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition.”


Minuteman 3 missile and Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

The major upgrades are up gradation of the support systems of the Minuteman 3 missile in the short term, and its eventual replacement program, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.


The US Air Force (USAF) has successfully test-fired an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April 2017  equipped with a single test re-entry vehicle.The Boeing-built Minuteman III is a ground-based strategic deterrent designed to replace the USAF’s LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM weapon system. Expected to enter service in 2027, the missile will remain in service until 2075.


The service expects to spend $62.3 billion over 30 years on 642 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed, according to an Arms Control Association review of internal Air Force documents. Plans also call for new ground control stations, new command and control systems and replacing the flight system.


U.S. Air Force in 2019, will start evaluating design concepts for a new intercontinental ballistic missile that will replace the aging Minuteman III.  The GBSD program is not just a missile replacement, Carol Erikson, GBSD vice president at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said. “It’s looking at the entire system. It’s a new missile, new command, control and communications all wrapped in a cyber-resilient and nuclear surety environment.”

Boeing: Still Interested In GBSD, But RFP Changes Needed « Breaking Defense - Defense industry news, analysis and commentary


USAF’s LRSO and GBSD missile weapon systems

The U.S. Air Force has quietly picked Raytheon to continue work on its future stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missile as the sole prime contractor. The company’s competitor, Lockheed Martin, will also continue to be involved in the project, but in a supporting role. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico announced the change in plans for the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) program on Apr. 17, 2020. USAF secretary Heather Wilson said: “This weapon will modernise the air-based leg of the nuclear triad.“Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold, at risk, things they value. This weapon will enhance our ability to do so, and we must modernise it cost-effectively.”


The USAF will begin fielding LRSO by 2030, with plans to install GBSD in the late 2020s. The LRSO weapon system is said to be a cost-effective force multiplier for B-52, B-2 Spirit and B-21 aircraft. USAF Nuclear Weapons Center commander major general Scott Jansson said: “LRSO is a critical element of the United States’ nuclear deterrence strategy. “Releasing this solicitation is a critical step toward affordably recapitalising the aging air leg of the nuclear triad.”


Hard details about either LRSO design are scant. The new missile is set to eventually replace the aging AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), which has been in service since the 1980s. Unlike the AGM-86B, the LRSO will feature a new advanced stealth design to make it more survivable in the face of ever-improved integrated air defense systems, especially those that near-peer competitors, such as Russia and China, are fielding now or have in development. It will be the Air Force’s first stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missile since that service retired the then-state-of-the-art AGM-129A Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) in 2012, which you can read about more in this past War Zone profile.


USAF Global Strike Command commander general Robin Rand said: “The LRSO will be a reliable, flexible, long-ranging, and survivable weapon system to complement the nuclear triad. “LRSO will ensure the bomber force can continue to hold high-value targets at risk in an evolving threat environment, to include targets within an area-denial environment.


The new GBSD weapon system will be in compliance with existing national requirements and it has the adaptability and flexibility to affordably address changing technology and threat environments through 2075. The Next-Generation Bomber LRS-B, replacing the more than quarter century old B-52 and B-2 spirit fleet of nuclear-capable bombers.

B-21 Raider LRS-B Next Generation Stealth Bomber 3D model

Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

The U.S. Navy is beginning work on the successor to its 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, the SSBN(X) with an estimated cost of $6-8 billion each. Ohio-class SSBNs are designed to each carry 24 SLBMs, although by 2018, four SLBM launch tubes on each boat are to be deactivated, and the number of SLBMs that can be carried by each boat consequently is to be reduced to 20, so that the number of operational launchers and warheads in the U.S. force will comply with strategic nuclear arms control limits.

The USA aims to begin construction of the new SSBN in 2021, and have the new type enter service with the fleet in 2031. A total of 12 boats would be produced, with the last boat expected to leave service around 2085.

U.S. develops “super-fuze” under its Nuclear Force modernization

Under its Nuclear modernization program US has developed a “super-fuze” device that by making small adjustment to the height of warhead explosion results in revolutionary increase in lethality of U.S. submarine–launched ballistic missiles, according to the report in the 1 March issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS). The targeting change is part of the nuclear stockpile stewardship plan that began a decade ago and is aimed at maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent without the need to develop and test new weapons.

“Shortly before a warhead arrives at its target, the superfuze uses radar to gauge the distance remaining on the ballistic path, taking into account any drift off track. The old technology set the detonation at a fixed height at or near the ground; course errors could shift the center of the blast away from the target (see diagram). But the new system adjusts the detonation altitude so that the blast is triggered at a higher point to keep it in the target’s so-called “lethal volume.” Within this zone, the authors say, a 100-kiloton warhead will destroy a hardened structure with 86% certainty”. The public has “completely missed [the superfuze’s] revolutionary impact on military capabilities,” reports Eliot Marshall, a science journalist in Washington, D.C.

The BAS authors calculate that by the end of 2016, U.S. weapon facilities had already produced roughly 1200 of a planned 1600 W76s armed with the superfuze. Of these, they say, “about 506” are now deployed on ballistic missile submarines. They estimate that potentially 272 such warheads, with two sent against each target, could eliminate “all 136 Russian silo-based ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].” US submarine-based missiles can carry multiple warheads, so hundreds of others, now in storage, could be added to the submarine-based missile force, making it all the more lethal.

The increased capability of the US submarine force will likely be seen as even more threatening because Russia does not have a functioning space-based infrared early warning system but relies primarily on ground-based early warning radars to detect a US missile attack, writes Hans M.  Kristensen director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in Washington, DC. Since these radars cannot see over the horizon, Russia has less than half as much early-warning time as the United States. (The United States has about 30 minutes, Russia 15 minutes or less.)


Northrop Grumman Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB)

The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is an American strategic bomber under development for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program, it is to be a long-range, stealth intercontinental strategic bomber for the USAF, able to deliver conventional and thermonuclear weapons.


As per existing projections, the B-21 program will cost a whopping USD 203 Billion over 30 years. Currently, six B-21 platforms are in various stages of development. The first B-21 flight is scheduled for mid-2023, provided all system evaluations and ground trials proceed without a hitch.


The Air Force began planning for the B-21 in 2011 and was awarded the major development contract to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. The B-21 is expected to make its first flight in 2023 and enter service by 2027. The Air Force plans to procure 100 of the bombers, which will be the backbone of America’s strategic strike and deterrence capabilities. The announcement marks an important step in the Pentagon’s broader plan to modernize all three “legs” of the U.S. nuclear triad – long-range bombers, subs and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Northrop Grumman B-21 "Raider" Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) - YouTube

“Building this bomber is a strategic investment in the next 50 years, and represents our aggressive commitment to a strong and balanced force,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in pre-announcement remarks at the Pentagon. “It demonstrates our commitment to our allies and our determination to potential adversaries, making it crystal clear that the United States will continue to retain the ability to project power throughout the globe long into the future.”


USAF and NNSA conclude B61-12 gravity bomb qualification flight tests

The US Air Force (USAF) has successfully completed two B61-12 gravity bomb qualification flight tests with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE / NNSA).  The new nuclear weapon is expected to start production in 2020. The B61-12 will arm aircraft like the iconic B-2 Bomber. The B-2 has such remarkable stealth that it can penetrate deep into enemy territory without detection, and attack heavily fortified and defended targets.

NNSA, USAF Completes Two Qualification Tests of B61-12 Nuclear Gravity Bombs - DefPost

The modifications are expected to provide a number of additional advantages. For starters, the aim is for the new bomb to cause less radioactive fallout, which is unquestionably a good idea. By harnessing the latest advances in precision guidance tech and incorporating it into the bomb makeover, the military should gain a weapon with enhanced precision. It will be low yield and, in terms of war planning, more versatile against a range of threats. Experts believe because of modern guidance systems,  these modernised nukes will make even underground bunkers just as vulnerable to — and within reach of — US strikes.


Russia Modernization

Russian nuclear strategy has been relatively consistent over the past decade. The most recent version, approved by Putin in December 2014, states that Russia “shall reserve for itself the right to employ nuclear weapons in response to the use against it and/or its allies of nuclear and other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, as well as in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with use of conventional weapons when the state’s very existence has been threatened,”


Russia planned to spend 101 billion rules on nuclear modernization program from 2013 to 2015, partly in response to the development of a global missile-defense system by the Americans. The current Russia NATO confrontation over Crimea, Ukraine or Baltic States is also driving it to spending billions of dollars on modernizing its strategic arsenal. In contrast to the United States, Russian strategic forces are now in the middle of their modernization cycle. Though the Kremlin is modernizing aging systems in each leg of their triad, the Russian arsenal will remain markedly less capable than its American counterpart for the foreseeable future. Over the next decade, all Soviet-era ICBMs (SS-18, SS-19, and SS-25) will be retired, the navy’s Delta III SSBN and its SS-N-18 missiles will be retired, and some of the Delta IV SSBNs will probably be retired as well.


Yars silo-based and mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force currently operates eight types of missile systems. They include five silo-based types: Voyevoda, Stiletto, Topol-M, Yars and Avangard. The mobile grouping comprises road-mobile Topol, Topol-M and Yars ICBMs. Russia plans to gradually rearm all of its missile formations with the latest Yars, Avangard and Sarmat missile systems.

Russia to Keep Silo and Mobile ICBM Launchers in Future | Firangi on India - भारत पर विदेशी दृष्टिकोण

Large number of Russia’s strategic warheads sit atop SS-18, SS-19 and SS-25 ICBMs, all of which are scheduled to be retired by 2020. It is replacing all its Soviet-era’s ICBMs, with a more modern force of Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, and developing newer road-mobile RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles. They have also begun manufacturing its new Sarmat ICBM, according to the analysts.

RS-24 Yars Intercontinental Ballistic Missile | Military-Today.com

Russia will complete rearming its Strategic Missile Force with Yars silo-based and mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 2024, Chief Designer of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (the Yars developer) Yuri Solomonov told TASS In Nov 2020. The first regiment armed with Yars road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles assumed combat duty at the Teikovo missile division in central Russia in March 2011. According to open sources, six missile divisions have been rearmed with Yars mobile ICBMs in Russia by now. In particular, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced in September that the Strategic Missile Force’s missile division stationed in Irkutsk in Siberia had been reamed with Yars ICBMs.


The RS-24 Yars is a Russian strategic missile system comprising a mobile or silo-based solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile with MIRVed (multiple independently targetable vehicle) warheads. The ICBM has been developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology under the supervision of Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yuri Solomonov. The Yars is a modification of the Topol-M missile system.


The Borei-class submarines will replace Delta-class submarines, all of which were built prior to 1991

Russia’s sea-based nuclear deterrent had relied on Delta 4 submarines, New 4th generation Borei-class submarines are now entering the fleet, eight new-generation boats are planned. Currently, there are three 667BDR Kaľmar (Delta-III) submarines, with liquid-fueled R-29R (SS-N-18, NATO classification “Stingray”) SLBMs; six 667BDRM Dolphin (Delta IV) submarines, equipped with the most advanced liquid-fueled R-29RMU2.1 Liner and 29RMU2 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff under the NATO classification) SLBMs; and three new-generation Project 955 Borei submarines in service.

Project 955A Borei-A SSBN to Reinforce Russian Navy Pacific Fleet - Naval News

Currently, there are three Boreis in service; by 2021 they will already be eight, with the newest five built in a modernized variant, with lower noisiness. Admiral Chirkov added that the design of 5th generation submarines has begun within the framework of the 2050 Shipbuilding Program. These future boats will be stealthy, and have improved C3, automated reconnaissance and “collision avoidance” systems, and better weapons, according to him.


Nuclear super-torpedo

Moscow claims to be developing a nuclear super-torpedo that can radioactively contaminate economic targets on enemy coasts, which presumably includes fishing grounds. The Status-6 torpedo is designed to create “wide areas of radioactive contamination,” according to the BBC translation. The submarine-launched weapon can “destroy important economic installations of the enemy in coastal areas and cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination, rendering them unusable for military, economic or other activity for a long time.”


But that’s not all. The “leaked” document describes a torpedo with a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and a depth of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). They will be launched from Russia’s newest “Belgorod” and “Khabarovsk” nuclear missile sub projects.


PAK-DA strategic Bombers

PAK DA (Advanced Long-Range Aviation Complex) is the new bomber that Russia plans to field starting in 2023, being designed to replace all three bombers currently in service with the Russian long-range aviation, including the Tu-22M3 long-range bomber and the Tu-95 and Tu-160 (aka the White Swan) strategic bombers.

Russia to Build 3 PAK DA Stealth Bomber Prototypes – The Diplomat

It will have a flying wing design. Russia plans to develop and build PAK-DA a subsonic stealthy flying wing aircraft with advanced electronic warfare systems and able to carry new nuclear-capable long-range cruise missiles. A 2016 report mentioned that the PAK DA was expected to have a range of 6,740 nautical miles. It will also be able to carry 30 tons of weapons from air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles as well as conventional and smart-guided bombs.


“It is impossible to build a missile-carrying bomber invisible to radars and supersonic at the same time. This is why focus is placed on stealth capabilities. The PAK DA will carry AI-guided missiles with a range of up to 7,000 km. Such a missile can analyze the aerial and radio-radar situation and determine its direction, altitude and speed. We’re already working on such missiles,” Bondarev was quoted as saying by the Russian newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta.


However many analysts believe the Russian industry lacks technology and resources to produce the PAK-DA, the next generation strategic bomber as it lacks operational next generation stealth and AESA radar technology. “That makes it even stranger that Putin is wasting enormous sums of money on maintaining a large nuclear arsenal instead of focusing on modernizing Russia’s conventional forces, as well as using arms control to try to reduce NATO’s nuclear and conventional forces. That would actually improved Russia’s security,” observes Hans M. Kristensen in FAS artcle.


China Modernization

China focused on ensuring the survivability of its secure retaliatory strike capability has a nuclear weapons modernization program under way. It is estimated that China has approximately 260 warheads in its stockpile for delivery by nearly 150 land-based ballistic missiles, aircraft, and an emerging ballistic submarine fleet.


China is aggressively developing its next generation of nuclear weapons, conducting an average of five tests a month to simulate nuclear blasts, according to a major Chinese weapons research institute.  Between September 2014 and last December, China carried out around 200 laboratory experiments to simulate the extreme physics of a nuclear blast, the China Academy of Engineering Physics reported in a document released by the government. In comparison, the US carried out only 50 such tests between 2012 and 2017 – or about 10 a year – according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


Such tests are typically carried out using high-powered gas guns that fire projectiles at weapons-grade materials in laboratories. Chinese tests are conducted using a large, sophisticated facility known as a multi-stage gas gun, which simulates the extreme heat, pressure and shock waves produced in a real nuclear blast.


China is modernizing and deploying road-mobile the DF-31A ICBM, according to DOD report.

“China has deployed new intercontinental ballistic missiles in response to Washington stationing components of its missile defense system in Japan and South Korea,” the lecturer at the Plekhanov Russia University of Economics said. “The United States has said that its missile defense system in the Asia-Pacific region is solely aimed against North Korea, but it is in fact designed to counter Russia and China’s nuclear missile potential.”

DF-31 DF-31A CSS-9 DF-31B ICBM intercontinental ballistic missile | China Chinese army missile systems vehicles | Chinese China army military equipment armoured UK

The DF-41 is a three-stage solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile reported to have a maximum range of up to 15,000 kilometers (more than 9320 miles) and a top speed of Mach 25 (19,030 mph). It is said to be capable of carrying up to 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRVs). Its launch preparation time is estimated to be between 3 to 5 minutes. China’s ICBM force is still fairly small (60 at most, by published U.S. Department of Defense estimates) and may be forced to rely on some older systems for maintaining a credible deterrent while also diversifying its delivery options.


The silo-based DF-5 family, unlike the mobile DF-31 or DF-41 ICBM families, is not a survivable missile family. While the DF-31s and -41s can move, making targeting difficult. The Chinese Dong Feng-5 (DF, East Wind,) family of missiles is undergoing significant modernization, mainly involving an upgrade to an operational Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) system. DF-5B, a new liquid-fueled ICBM designed to strike targets anywhere on Earth carrying four to six warheads, expected to be deployed in the next two years. Adding a credible MIRV component to a nuclear arsenal typically multiplies the perceived threat emanating from even a small arsenal, adding to its deterrent value.


Type 094 Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)

During the celebrations for the 71st anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), two upgraded Type 094A nuclear-powered submarines have joined the fleet, bringing the total of these boats to six. A total of eight hulls are also believed to exist, and the class may ultimately grow to a full dozen. The new Type 094A is a variant with modified and improved sails, and could be equipped with a total of 16 launch tubes, along with the new Julang-2A (JL-2A) ballistic missile, which has a far greater range than the JL-2, and could potentially reach the entire United States from the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island.

Chinese Type 094 Jin Class Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarines To Become Operational Next Year | Global Military Review

China’s  Type 094 Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), once they are equipped as planned with JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles, will for the first time enable Chinese SSBNs to target parts of the United States. The Type 094s displace about 11,000 tons submerged, and carry 12 JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), capable of launching a nuclear warhead some 7,500 kilometers.


The Type 094A differs from the Type 094 in the former’s curved conning tower and a retractable towed array sonar mounted atop its upper tailfin. The array makes it easier for the sub to listen for threats.The Type 094A, which was first seen in November 2016, is also far quieter than the noisier Type 094. Jin-class shall be augmented with its next-generation SSBN (Type 096) over the next decade. TReports vary widely on the design parameters and expected deployment dates, but it will undoubtedly be larger, quieter, and carry more missiles with more warheads.


It was also rumored the Type 096 will carry 24 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) compared to 12 in the Type 094. These SLBMs for the Type 096 might either be the Julang-3 (JL-3) or the JL-2A. JL-3 has an estimated but unconfirmed range of 12,000 kilometers, which, if accurate will place most of the continental United States within range of this SLBM. JL-2A has a range of 11,200-kilometers, also sufficient to hit the U.S. from the South China Sea.


Russian military expert Vasily Kashin believes the South China Sea is the only place where the Type 094A can fire its SLBMs at the USA in relative safety. The main base for China’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines is Hainan Island on the South China Sea.


China’s Strategic Bombers

China unveiled for the first time its new type of long-range strategic bombers in the National Day military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in Oct 2020. The debuting H-6N is a home-made strategic bomber capable of air refueling and long-range strike. Also showcased in the parade was H-6K, a domestically-developed medium and long-range bomber. An echelon of three H-6N and six H-6K bombers flew over Tian’anmen Square. The bombers are under the command of a division of the aviation forces of the People’s Liberation Army’s air force that has carried out many major missions, including air-dropping atomic and hydrogen bombs.


The Chinese H-6/B-6 is a copy of the Soviet Tu-16 medium-range bomber used for both tactical and strategic bombing. The H-6A was a nuclear bomber, H-6B a reconnaissance aircraft and H-6C a tactical bomber. In the 1980s, the PLAAF introduced the second generation H-6 aircraft including: H-6D anti-ship missile carrier and H-6E nuclear bomber.

China deployed four H-6 strategic bombers 280 miles from Taiwan coasts

In the 1990s China deployed the F, G and H models with several improvements. In 2007 China introduced the H-6M optimized for launch of cruise missiles, the HD-6 electronic warfare aircraft and the HY-6/U/D/DU tanker aircrafts were also introduced in the 2000s. As of August 2010, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) was upgrading its existing fleet of B-6/H-6 bombers and will arm them with a new advanced long-range cruise missile (YJ-63). China produced roughly 150 H-6 bombers with some of them expected to remain in the active duty by 2020.


PLAAFs H-6K version is the most modern and is China’s premier strategic bomber. Fu Qianshao said, “In the past, our bombers could only deliver airdropped bombs and so were unable to conduct precision attacks, but the H-6K, with the adoption of some of our most advanced aeronautic technologies, is able to carry and launch air-to-surface cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, which means it can take out multiple targets on the ground or at sea within one mission”.


He added “The PLA has defined its air force as a strategic force and pledged to obtain offensive capability for it. An air force with strategic aspirations must be able to perform long-range precision strike operations, so the H-6K is undoubtedly a valuable asset to the PLA Air Force.” Chinese DH-10 ground-launched land-attack cruise missile, CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile has been described as dual-capable nuclear cruise missiles.


“The PLAAF [People’s Liberation Army Air Force] is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets,” an annex of a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report issued in Jan 2019  states. “Stealth technology continues to play a key role in the development of these new bombers, which probably will reach initial operational capability no sooner than 2025.” “These new bombers will have additional capabilities, with full-spectrum upgrades compared with current operational bomber fleets, and will employ many fifth-generation fighter technologies in their design,” the review, titled “China Military Power,” states.


An August announcement by CCTV confirmed the “Hong-20” was China’s “new long-distance strategic bomber,” and the plane may be ready to make its first flight this year, Sputnik reported. The H-20 is widely believed to be analogous to the US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, in both design and range. ​However, the DIA report also described a second plane with no obvious analogue in the US fleet. This plane, described as a medium bomber, would be heavier than an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but would lack the long range of the H-20.


The Drive reports the plane, which is roughly dubbed the JH-XX by observers, will have a 1,000 to 2,000-mile combat radius, an internal ventral weapons bay but also side weapons bays, possibly for air-to-air weapons. It is believed to be about 100 feet long. By comparison, an F-22 Raptor is 62 feet long, and the H-20 is projected to have a range of 5,000 miles without refueling.


Currently, estimates of China’s nuclear forces are little more than a guessing game among China “experts.” As China expert and former top Department of Defense official Michael Pillsbury warned recently, China is hiding its hegemonic ambitions while steadily modernizing its nuclear forces. Experts have advised pressurizing China for transparency in its nuclear expenditures, nuclear force structure and nuclear deterrent policies and its participation in future Russian-American strategic nuclear arms control talks.


The H-20 is believed to also be designed by Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation, and the JH-XX is rumored to be Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s failed competing bid for the H-20 contract, the Drive reported. If so, it seems it would more fit the demands of a medium bomber than a long-range bomber.



This process of modernization is triggering what John Mecklin, the editor of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, calls a “different kind of arms race.” “It’s one in which technological advance is the race,” Mecklin told the BBC. “Nuclear countries are trying to make sure that the other nuclear countries don’t get some sort of technological edge.” There is need to recognize and agree that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and would produce catastrophic health and environmental effects. There should be an immediate decision by the United States and Russia to extend New START by five years and commence negotiations on a follow-on agreement to achieve lower, verifiable limits on all types of nuclear warheads and delivery systems; Experts call for a high-level political commitment by all nuclear-armed states, including China, France, and the United Kingdom, not to increase the overall size or diversity of their nuclear arsenals. An annual report by each of the nuclear-armed states on the size and composition of their deployed and nondeployed nuclear forces, as well as their fissile material stockpiles of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium; and a reiteration by all nuclear-armed states that they will maintain their de facto nuclear weapons test moratoria and take all necessary steps to facilitate the prompt entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.



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