Alex Kuropiatnyk*: Comparative Analysis of the Russian Federation and NATO Nuclear Forces.


World Nuclear Weapons Survey, 2015

The general conclusion is that, in spite of the agreement of the five nuclear nations in 1968 to end the nuclear arms race, the nuclear world countries are currently modernizing their nuclear forces to maintain their important status.

During the Cold War, France, the Russian Federation, the UK, and the United States significantly reduced their nuclear arsenals (a total of almost 70,000 warheads by the mid-1980s).




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However, significant reserves are still stored in Russia and the United States. All nuclear countries regard nuclear weapons to be important for national and international security. Ambiguous situation is with non-nuclear countries: a significant number of them are asking nuclear countries to protect them, five NATO member states have provided their territories for the deployment of the US nuclear weapons in Europe. Such a practice was considered permissible during the Cold War, but now it is a direct violation of the non-proliferation regime, which is supported and promoted by the United States and NATO themselves.

Although the quantitative dimension of nuclear weapons between the West and the East does not increase, the arms race is actively conducted in the technological dimension, which can significantly increase in the next 10 years.

It concerns the programmes for the modernization of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery in the following areas:

- 7 programmes for ICBMs;

- 9 - for cruise missiles,

- 8 - for sea-launch missiles,

- 5 - for bombers (airborne);

- 8 - for the warheads themselves

- 8 - for nuclear weapon production plants.


We have a significant reduction in the number of warheads after the Cold War. At the same time, the speed of the process of reducing nuclear arsenals has slowed down: the Russian Federation and the USA plan to leave their nuclear arsenals at the current level for an indefinite time.

The total number of warheads of all kinds in the world as of January, 2015 was 15,850, in 2016 - 15,395, of which approximately 93% were arsenals of the United States and the Russian Federation.

The Russian Federation and NATO countries continue to spend considerable resources on the modernization of their nuclear forces, although nuclear modernization is contrary to the obligations in the framework of the NPT (5 countries 50 years ago).

Comparative analysis:

The United States has begun to review the entire national nuclear security component, covering the development of new systems for the delivery of warheads, the extension of operational capability of existing warheads of all types and their modernization, as well as capacities for their production in the future. The Administration of B.Obama has taken a course since 2013 not on limiting nuclear arsenals, but on increasing the role of the entire nuclear triad in a state of high combat readiness. Modernization programmes for the amount of $ 348 billion dollars are planned for 2015-2024.

Warheads: Over the past 20 years, the US has been modernizing tactical weapons: the new B61-12 bomb is more accurate with smaller warheads (to be replaced after 2022). Works as for the creation of a new universal warhead for ground/sea launch ICBM (interoperable warheads (IWs) will likely require tests (in violation of existing agreements).

ICBM: (Ground-based strategic deterrent) was in the final phase of the Minuteman III modernization programme worth $ 8 billion, to be replaced in 2028 and extend their service life by 2030.

Sea launch: the Trident II D-5 missile modernization programme on submarines has begun in 2017 to extend their service life until 2040. Work is underway to create a new generation submarine (to replace the Ohio class boats) for the sea-launch ballistic missiles, commissioning from 2031.

Airborne: US Air Force has launched the programme for upgrading cruise missiles and bombers B-2, B-52, replacing them with the new B-21 in 2030-2040, and also exploring the feasibility of establishing a new airborne ICBM. Work is under way to extend the operation of the old Minuteman III cruise missiles and develop a new cruise missile (long-range standoff missile), to create a new long-range bomber according to stealth technology, a new tactical nuclear fighter-bomber. A tactical nuclear weapon is being developed - a new remote control precision guidance nuclear bomb.

Nuclear Infrastructure: The US plans to modernize its infrastructure with a powerful new system of nuclear command and control, new nuclear weapons production and simulation systems.

Conclusion: Over the next 10 years, the United States plans to spend US$ 355 billion on the modernization and maintenance of nuclear forces - an increase of US$ 142 billion (from US$ 213 billion planned by the Administration of B.Obama in 2011). Over the next 20 years, the United States will spend on these goals US$ 1 trillion, indicating the scope of ambition, which clearly contradicts B.Obama's election plans for arms reduction and disarmament. The scope of modernization is even greater than during the time of President George W. Bush and points to the renewal of the priority of nuclear weapons compared to conventional ones.

NATO: Tactical US nuclear weapons in Europe: new B61-12 bombs are scheduled to be deployed in Europe in 2020 for F-15E, F-16, and Tornado fighters. Since 2024, new invisible F-35A fighter bombers are planned to be placed in Europe to replace F-16 and the Tornado. The United States points out that the role of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is political - to demonstrate the nuclear defence of NATO allies and to provide the opportunity to jointly carry the burden of nuclear deterrence.

There are currently 180 tactical nuclear bombs B61 in underground storage facilities of NATO countries - Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Half of these bombs are intended for use by the national air forces of these non-nuclear countries (all of these countries are members of the NPT). In peacetime, nuclear warheads are controlled by the US Air Force, and during wartime they are handed over to the National Armed Forces (in direct violation of the NPT).


Аir Base


Number of warheads


Kleine Brogel

52nd Fighter Wing




52nd Fighter Wing



Ghedi Torre

52nd Fighter Wing



31st Fighter Wing




52nd Fighter Wing        




39th Air Base Wing





Combination of high-precision tactical nuclear bombs with fighter bombers of the 5th generation greatly enhances NATO's combat capabilities in Europe. However, this contradicts to Mr. Obama's statements that this will not provide new combat capabilities, "and NATO declarations that it meets the criteria for efficient deterrence. Modernization is in direct contradiction to the idea of a "bold reduction" of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the Russian Federation and USA in Europe and NATO statements "to create the world without nuclear weapons." Moreover, this programme sends the Russian Federation the signal on the acceptability of increasing non-strategic nuclear forces in Europe and deprives NATO of the moral right to urge the Russian Federation to deter in this sphere.

This programme eliminates insignificant as it is resources for the development of conventional weapons, which in the event of the Russian aggression in the east of NATO would be more efficient.

 France has 300 warheads and is currently completing a programme of profound modernization of its nuclear forces aimed at increasing its arsenal by 2050. This "Force de frappe" is the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. In 1996, France removed from active duty, and in 1999 abolished its ground nuclear might, decommissioned 175 warheads in 2008. President Sarkozy announced the reduction of the remaining nuclear arsenal by 30%. F.Hollande declared the need for "nuclear deterrence" in the quantity of "less than 300 warheads": 3 sets of 16 sea-launch ICBMs and 56 air-launch cruise missiles.

Sea-launch: The key point is that it is planned to put on active duty new sea-based M-51 ICBMs at submarines of Triumphant class (four) which are able to carry more warheads, have a greater range, better accuracy. In 2015-2019, the existing TN75 warheads for these missiles will be replaced by new TNO (Tête Nucléaire Océanique) with a lifetime of up to 2050. France is also planning to replace its submarines with new ones (old ones will be out of service in 2035).

Airborne: In 2011, France completed the programme for the modernization of airborne tactical nuclear missiles (300 km increased up to 500 km) with new warheads. These missiles are based in two squadrons (ground-based) of fighter bombers of Mirage 2000N K3 type in Istres (the Mediterranean Sea) and a new type of fighter Rafale F3 at Saint-Dizier base near Paris. The Istres squadron is scheduled to be gradually modernized with Rafale F3. The marine version of Rafale F3 is based at Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, Toulon. Airplanes were modernized in 2010 for a new air-to-surface cruise missile, a new phase of modernization is to be in 2022.

United Kingdom: The UK has moved further in all issues regarding the potential prohibition of nuclear weapons in comparison to all nuclear countries. The UK is leasing such US ICBMs as sea-launch Trident II D5, which have warheads W76-1 / Mk4A upgraded by the UK for use at missiles developed in Britain. Its arsenal is steadily reduced, currently - 215 nuclear warheads, which should have decreased to 180 by 2025. The UK has only tactical nuclear weapons, as for the annihilation of which a debate was held in 1990s as it was not needed any more. The number of operational nuclear weapons has decreased from 180 to 120 with the prospect of further reduction by the middle of 2020s.

Sea launch : 4 nuclear submarines of the Vanguard class (local development) are supposed to be replaced by 3-4 submarines of the new Successor class by 2025, the introduction of which is postponed due to financial problems. Already outdated submarines cannot be involved in constant combat duty in the number of 1 submarine and the quantity of operational missiles at them has decreased from 16 to 8. The UK Government resorted to extending life of old submarines (after 2030) and ICBMs (after 2028).

 Russia is in the middle of a cycle of modernization of its nuclear forces, which envisages the transition from Soviet forces to modern, simplified and more economical in maintaining. Despite financial turmoil, V.Putin's regime regards replacement and modernization of nuclear forces as a priority and a symbol of national prestige, as well as a compensation for the debilitated conventional forces. However, the nuclear arsenal of the Russian Federation will decline despite international agreements due to the aging of existing facilities and the impossibility of their complete replacement, given the financial constraints. Not all plans for the modernization of the carrier triad will be implemented: in 2012, V.Putin declared that the Russian Federation would have built 400 new land-based and sea-launch ICBMs by mid-2020s.

In 2015, almost half of the Soviet arsenal of ICBMs was replaced, the complete replacement is scheduled for 2024, with the deterrent arsenal reducing quantitatively. In order to maintain parity with a quantitatively larger arsenal of the United States of America, the Russian Federation is committed to the development of ICBMs with multiple warheads, which are guided at various targets from mobile launching complexes, such as the ICBM Yars-24.

 Ground (silo and mobile) based:

1. SS-27 ICBM and RS-26 ground-based (mobile).

2. A heavy ICBM Sarmat (silo-based, liquid engine) replacing the SS-18, is planned to be equipped with a system for overcoming US missile defence.

Sea launch:

3. SS-N Bulava, sea-based.

4. A fleet of 8 new nuclear submarines of the Borey class to be built until 2018, in December 2016, 3 missile carriers (laid in 1996, 2004, 2006) were introduced, the rest are under construction.


Russia is constantly postponing the implementation of the new project and retaining a fleet of old strategic bombers Tupolev-160 (Blackjack), Tupolev-95MS (Bear) and Tupolev-22M (Backfire), which all went through various levels of modernization. It was decided to resume the production of 50 Tupolev-160 in 2023. At present, work is under way to create a subsonic bomber to be commissioned after 2020. New KN-102 air-launched cruise missiles have been developed for a long time and may soon be adopted.

New nuclear charges and warheads:

Despite modernization, the launchers for Russian ICBMs have been reduced to 300 with the prospect of dropping to 250 over the next 10 years. In order to maintain parity with the USA, the Russian Federation places more warheads on those ICBMs that are still in combat duty.

Tactical Nuclear Forces:

The new tactical missile complex Iskander M-SS-26 replaces the old nuclear SS-21 in 10 brigades in the Western and Southern military districts.

The new tactical nuclear bomber Sukhoy-34 (Fullback) replaces the old Sukhoy-24M (Fencer).

The tactical shock nuclear submarines of the Severodvinsk or Yasen classes must be commissioned with a new long range cruise missile of the Caliber type with the ability to carry nuclear warheads to enhance combat capabilities of the Navy.

 Comparison of budget military expenditures of the Russian Federation and the USA:

Information on budget expenditures on nuclear armaments of the Russian Federation is uncertain and controversial because of the financial problems of the state. In 2011, the Russian Federation planned to have spent US$ 70 billion by 2018 on modernization of nuclear forces, which is a significant amount of 10 billion annually and approaching the level of US expenditures. In 2012, media of the Russian Federation reported plans to spend 101 billion rubles in 2013-2015 on a nuclear programme which equals to only US$ 2.9 billion for 3 years only for the "nuclear complex". This corresponds to less than half of spendings of the USA for all nuclear infrastructure.

At the same time, the total military budget of the Russian Federation has increased: during the next 10 years it is planned to spend RUB 19 trillion (US$ 542 billion) for defence. This is slightly less than the annual budget of the Pentagon. 10% ($ 54 billion for 10 years) of this budget accounts for the development of nuclear forces. Definite budget items are not known, but they account for 20% of the $ 30 billion that the United States will spend annually on nuclear forces.

Economy of the Russian Federation is unlikely to provide such a level of spending on the development of nuclear forces, which will further limit the resources for the development of conventional forces. Since 2008, the Russian Federation has reduced and reorganized its Armed Forces in order to save money. The Army and armaments have been cut by 60% since 2008.

The Russian Government Procurement Plan for Defence for 2010 aims at replacing the Soviet-style weapons and strengthening deterrence. However, the CIA of the United States assesses the Russian economy as weak, plans for rearmament will lack the funds. The Russian Federation failed to restore the efficiency of its military and industrial complex. The 2014 budget proved to be wretched with a planned deficit of RU 391 billion (US$ 12 billion), which grew to RUB 817 billion (US$ 25 billion) in 2015. International sanctions after the occupation of the Crimea imposed additional restrictions on the successful implementation of plans for the modernization of nuclear forces.

Conclusions [1]:

The Russian Federation continues to have the whole triad: bombers, ICBMs and submarines. According to the START-3 Agreement of 2010, the Russian Federation has the following limitations: not more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads by 2018;

- Russia has modernized its nuclear forces, development of which has become a national priority in the difficult economic modernization conditions;

- Russia modernizes strategic bombers carrying nuclear new high-precision long-range cruise missiles;

- A new generation of submarines with the new generation of sea-based ICBM, capable of overcoming missile defence system should enter into operation.

- Russia is modernizing land-based ICBMs with divisible warheads capable of overcoming missile defence system.

- In addition, Russia tests new medium-range cruise missiles in direct violation of the Treaty on this type of nuclear weapon of 1987. Also, long-range missiles RS-26 are tested on a medium range - the only class of nuclear weapons that was supposed to be completely eliminated.

- Besides strategic weapons, Russia maintains 2,000 warheads for tactical nuclear weapons: torpedoes, bombs, surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles for ground targets and surface-to-air ones for air defence SAM (for ground targets). Russia does not announce its plans to upgrade this part of the arsenal, but this cannot be ruled out.

The alarming fact is that the Russian Federation has made nuclear weapons the main component of its defence strategy and military doctrine. In 2000, Russia abandoned the doctrine of rejection of the first nuclear strike and developed in the 2000's the concept of "de-escalation" of nuclear strikes: threaten or carry out limited nuclear strikes in the course of conventional military conflict, for de-escalation at the Russian conditions.

- Although the conventional forces of the Russian Federation are considerably inferior to those of the US and NATO, Russian nuclear forces continue to pose a significant threat to the United States and its allies.

Earlier, Western analysts believed that nuclear forces of the Russian Federation could be used exclusively in the defensive war, but after the start of the war in Ukraine, it became clear that Russia could apply them as part of a strategy of aggressive (offensive) war. The war in Ukraine should be considered a nuclear conflict, during which the Kremlin constantly threatens, albeit in a disguised manner, with a nuclear strike. In addition, it was stated that Russia had the right to place nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad and the Crimea. All that raised the level of the threat of the US / NATO nuclear conflict with the Russian Federation at an unprecedented after the Cold War level, with the aim of preventing Western intervention in the conflict in Ukraine under the menace of escalating the conflict to a catastrophic level.

The immediate ground for the US to be in a situation of nuclear confrontation with Russia may be escalation of the Russian conflict in Ukraine or Eastern Europe - a NATO member-state: Russia could use nuclear weapons either at an early stage to intimidate NATO and the United States, or in case of loss in conventional way in order to reverse the situation in their favour.

Nevertheless, nuclear weapons should continue to play the role of deterrence for the USA against Russia. The United States should have an option of a mandatory response to a Russian nuclear strike and predict a nuclear strike to prevent a conventional blow on the US allies from the part of Russia - a symmetrical approach to the concept of the Russian Federation. The reason is that a preventive first nuclear strike is better than a long and expensive war for the liberation of a NATO ally. In addition, it has a deterring effect. To this end, the United States should finance fully the modernization of its nuclear forces.

 - It is also proposed, symmetrically with the Russian Federation, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Missile Agreement, to deploy ballistic and cruise missiles in sufficient quantity and quality to neutralize the Russian ones, since Russia has refused to negotiate on this issue. It is recognized that achieving parity in this area may prove provocative and costly, since Russia's advantage is high, taking into account Russia's powerful air defence.

US should urge Russia to return to the Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, namely:

-  place nuclear warheads of a very small power at missiles;

-  train Europeans to participate in nuclear strikes against the Russian Federation;

- Transfer warehouses of nuclear bombs closer to the Russian Federation to the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe;

- Relocate B-52 bombers and nuclear cruise missiles for them from the United States to Europe closer to the Russian Federation borders on a rotation basis;

 - Develop a sea-launch cruise missile of a new generation;

 - Develop a new long-range nuclear missile of as a county, both ground- and sea-based.

- Consider the possibility of deploying ground-based missiles in Europe;

- Deploy air defence facilities in Europe to fight cruise missiles of the Russian Federation.

It is recognized that implementation even of a portion of the proposed measures would change the long-lasting US and NATO policy to diminish the importance of nuclear weapons in military doctrine and could lead to a nuclear arms race. Besides, this would be contrary to NATO commitments according to an agreement on cooperation with Russia of 1997. However, V.Putin has already violated his own commitments to NATO in the context of the events in Ukraine.


  1. Based on recommendations statement of Dr. Matthew Kroenig: Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University and Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council. Hearing on “Regional Nuclear Dynamics” Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Thursday February 25, 2015 2:30 p.m. –222 Russell Senate Office Building  http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Kroenig_02-25-15.pdf



*Information about the author:

Alex Kuropiatnyk – foreign policy and security expert,  Maidan of Foreign Affairs, (Ukraine).

The article is prepared on the basis of the address at the International Conference "Russian Nuclear Arsenal: Myths, Real Threats and Counteraction".

20.08.2017 20:00:00