Thursday, April 22, 2010
What the new START treaty overlooked
The new START bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement between Russia and the United States was signed by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama on April 8, 2010 in Prague, the Czech Republic.
The well-balanced document highlights the commitment of Moscow and Washington to continue resetting bilateral relations. The agreement also heeds Russian national interests.
At the same time, the treaty does not cover high-precision sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), which can acquire strategic capabilities in certain conditions.
What did the parties gain from the treaty, and what did it overlook?
First of all, Moscow can deploy ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads.
The deployment of RS-24 Yars (SS-X-29) ICBM systems will make it possible to compensate for the gradual reduction in the number of previously manufactured RS-20 Voyevoda (SS-18 Satan) heavy-class and RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) medium-class missiles.
The treaty places no curbs on the development of ground-based ICBMs and allows Russia to deploy new heavy-class and medium-class ICBMs.
Second, U.S. inspectors will finally leave Votkinsk Plant State Production Association, an engineering and ballistic missile production company based in Votkinsk, which manufactures up-to-date strategic and theater-level missiles and implements R&D projects under the RSM-56 Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
Any foreign presence in Votkinsk is undesirable because the city is the mainstay of the national missile potential.
Third, both parties will exchange telemetric information on a voluntary and mutual basis. The relevant exchange mechanism is still unclear because the United States has stopped manufacturing new ground-based ICBMs long ago and conducts few ballistic-missile tests.
Although it is possible to exchange telemetric information of prototype Russian offensive systems and U.S. defensive systems, Washington is not prepared for such transparency levels yet.
Fourth, Russia would have had to reduce the number of strategic delivery vehicles, no matter what, because it is unable to extend their service life all the time. The situation was aggravated by insufficient missile procurement volumes and by several abortive Bulava-30 test launches. For a long time the Russian Defense Ministry annually bought 6-7 RT-2UTTKh Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) single-warhead ICBMs.
Under the new rules, Moscow has only 608 deployed strategic delivery vehicles with 1,915 nuclear warheads. Consequently, Russia already meets the treaty's launch vehicle ceilings and can easily reduce the number of warheads down to required levels. At the same time, Moscow can retain numerous operationally inactive stockpiled nuclear warheads that will give it an edge over such nuclear powers as France, the United Kingdom or China.
But we should not think that the United States is voluntarily reducing the number of its launch vehicles. This reduction is largely made possible by their adaption to conventional warheads. Notably, four refitted Ohio class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines already carry Tomahawk conventional SLCMs. Strategic bombers are also being refitted in a similar manner. This makes it possible to expand the tremendous U.S. non-nuclear high-precision weapons potential.
This process will continue under the new treaty because the 14 U.S. ballistic missile submarines carry 336 SLBMs. Moreover, the United States has 450 Minuteman-3 (LGM-30G) ICBMs and at least 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers. Previously, 200 bombers were listed in this category. This makes up for 846 strategic delivery vehicles, exceeding maximum delivery vehicle ceilings.
It should be noted that America's conventional high-precision weapons have a serious destabilizing potential. For instance, conventional Tomahawk SLCMs have a maximum range of 1,300 km, whereas nuclear-tipped Tomahawks have a maximum range of 2,500 km. They can therefore be classed among medium-range missiles in terms of this parameter. Four Ohio class submarines, as well as Los Angeles nuclear-powered fast attack submarines, Seawolf class and Virginia class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers and Ticonderoga class missile cruisers are equipped with such cruise missiles.
Although they can carry about 6,600 cruise missiles, U.S. Navy warships have between 2,800 and 3,600 Tomahawk cruise missiles of various modified versions. Tomahawk launchers are also used to fire anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles.
Vladimir Yevseyev, Ph. D. (Technology), is the Scientific Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Coordinating Council for Prognostication