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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons

The present Russian nucear stockpile is vastly reduced from that of the Soviet era. The Soviets were quite thrifty, and seemingly never threw anything away. In the United States, nuclear material from obsolete weapons was recyled into modern weapons, placing some rational upper limit on the size of the stockpile. The American stockpile peaked at about 30,000 weapons in the early 1960s, and by the end of the Cold War stood at around 20,000 weapons.

The Soviets, in the grasp of the Tyranny of the Producers, built new weapons with new materials, so the stockpile just kept on growing, peakng at about 40,000 weapons at the end of the Cold War. By the year 2010, both countries seemed to have stockpiles of about 5,000 weapons.

Under the terms of the New START agreement, the Russians made significant reductions in their strategic arsenal. The number of deployed missiles and bombers fell by 35 percent from 809 to 527 and the number of warheads by 65 percent from 3,897 to 1,444.

According to Article II of the Treaty of the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, Russia and the United States were on February 5, 2018 limited to :

  • 700 deployed ballistic missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
  • 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

The Russian Federation has fully complied with its commitment to reduce its strategic offensive weapons. As of February 5, 2018, Russia's aggregate potential is the following:

  • 527 deployed ballistic missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
  • 1,444 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
  • 779 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

The Russian Federation and United States' statements on meeting thess aggregate limits on strategic arms, particularly nuclear warheads, reflect "counting rule" aggregates rather than actual numbers of deployed warheads, which are surely greater than these numbers [viz. SIPRI], and probably around three times greater than these numbers [do the math].

In 2017, the US DoD reported that "Russia currently has an active stockpile of approximately 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons. These include air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, and depth charges for medium-range bombers, tactical bombers, and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft missiles, and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines. There may also be warheads remaining for surface-to-air and other aerospace defense missile systems."


The central figure in the complex of radioactivity research in Russia was Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskiy who, in 1908, successfully insisted that these studies be included in the list of priority topics for the Academy of Sciences. In 1922, on the initiative of V.I. Vernadskiy and under his supervision, the State Radium Institute was founded, and all then available radiological institutions in Petrograd became a part of it.

In 1928 V. Nikolsky's fantastic novel was published, which managed to guess even the date of the first atomic explosion - 1945 (the author believed that this would happen in Paris, and not during the war, but as a result of either an unsuccessful experiment, then whether sabotage).

Ten years later, the magazine Around the World published the fantasy of N. Thoman about the "future war against fascism" in which the enemy is going to use lethal "atomic batteries". But Soviet intelligence did not doze off - the location of the atomic batteries was uncovered, and paratroopers, taking the enemy by surprise, carry the warmongers to the nines. In turn, and American science fiction writers were not averse to parroting a man with nuclear prophecy.

In the spring of 1944, agents of the FBI came to the editorial office of the science fiction magazine "Estdowning" to interrogate the staff about the circumstances of the publication of the story "The Line of Death" in the magazine. Then the author - little-known science fiction writer Cleve Cartmill - was in serious trouble. Of course, in his work he detailed the entire technology of manufacturing nuclear weapons, and formulated the main principle: "the combination of two subcritical masses of uranium-235 in order to cause a chain reaction." And this in the spring of 1944, for a year and a half before Hiroshima! It is not surprising that the secret services suspected a leak of classified information and for a long time did not want to believe that neither the author nor the editorial staff has access to state secrets, and everything that has happened is not due to malice, but to simple accident or rare insight of the author.

Contrary to the established stereotype, the work on creating nuclear weapons in the USSR began long before the Soviet leadership became aware of the "Manhattan Project" in the United States. Back in January 1922, at the initiative of Academician V.I. Vernadsky was established Radium Institute, here in 1937, for the first time, a centrifugal method of separating uranium isotopes began to be applied. In the pre-war period, research in the field of nuclear physics was also carried out at the Ukrainian Physicotechnical Institute and the Institute of Chemical Physics.

In the late 1930s, Soviet scientists independently theoretically substantiated the possibility of a chain reaction of uranium fission. In the 1930’s, a range of Soviet institutes attained significant results in studying the uranium fission reaction and the prospects of nuclear energy use: the Institute of Physics and Technology (PhysTech) headed by academician A.F. Ioffe; the Institute of Chemical Physics headed by young N.N. Semenov; the Radium Institute headed by academician V.G. Khlopin; the Academy of Sciences Physics Institute headed by S.I. Vavilov; in Kharkov — the Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology with the nuclear laboratories of K.D. Sinelnikov, A.K. Valter, and A.I. Leypunskiy.

The Ioffe’s school of sciences was a unique phenomenon not just in Soviet but in world science. Among its eventually famous students was young Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov, who came to the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Technology (LIPT) in 1925. In the early 1930’s, a “special nuclear group” was created here, later transformed into the department of nuclear physics headed by Kurchatov. In 1937, the first cyclotron in Europe was launched in the Radium Institute by L.V. Mysovskiy and I.V. Kurchatov; in 1940, K.A. Petrzhak and G.N. Flerov discovered the spontaneous uranium fission here. In the second half of the 1930’s, the design and construction of a large 10-MeV cyclotron began at LIPT, but the work was interrupted by the war.

In 1940, the staff of the Kharkov Physico-Technical Institute proposed a project for the first Soviet atomic bomb. Unfortunately, at the time, this proposal was not met with understanding from the authorities, and the technical implementation of such a project required huge expenses at uncertain prospects at that time, but in 1941 all the investigations conducted in the USSR in this area were classified. The Great Patriotic War that began began to slow down the research of nuclear physicists, most scientists switched to more topical topics for the front.

The mass of RDS-1 reached almost five tons, which excluded its use from any other aircraft, other than long-range bombers. The system that provides the use of "products 501" for heavy TU-4A ("A" - means "nuclear") was developed by Alexander Nadashkevich. But these piston bombers themselves, which were "pirated copies" of the American B-29 "Superfortress" (the ones that burned Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as noted above, are already hopelessly outdated and because of the low speed were easy prey for enemy fighters. This, by the way, was proved by Soviet pilots, who were easily dealt with on the MiG-15 with American B-29s during the war in Korea.

Further development of nuclear bomb weapons in the USSR was on the way of increasing the power of charges while ensuring their compactness, which would allow placing ammunition on light jet bombers and even fighter aircraft of front-line aviation that solved tactical tasks. In some situations (if especially important targets in the territory of the enemy were within the range of aircraft) tactical winged vehicles acquired a certain strategic status.

Later, advanced nuclear bombs of the RDS-2 type (38 kilotons) with plutonium and RDS-3 (42 kilotons) with uranium-plutonium filling were created and launched into the series, and all previously produced RDS-1 bombs were converted to RDS-2. Progress was evident: the power of charges could be doubled, and mass, on the contrary, reduced. The RDS-3 bomb, which also received the female name "Mary", was the first nuclear weapon in our country, tested not in the experimental ground version, but by dropping the Tu-4 on October 18, 1951. According to the published materials of the veteran of the domestic atomic project EF Korchagin, as of January 1, 1953, the USSR's nuclear arsenal consisted of 59 RDS-2 and 16 RDS-3 bombs concentrated in the KB-11 storage.

After the explosions of the first Soviet atomic device in 1949 and the Soviet hydrogen bomb in August 1953, the Soviet armed forces acquired nuclear weapons. Also introduced in the 1950s were ballistic- and cruise-missile technologies, jet engines, and artificial earth satellites, as well as computers and automated control systems. These important events were known in the Soviet Union as the "revolution in military affairs." Of all the new developments, nuclear weapons most affected Soviet strategy. Nuclear weapons altered the nature and methods of armed struggle on the strategic level because they could accomplish the military's strategic tasks without operational art and tactics.

Not until Stalin's death in 1953, however, could the Soviet military begin exploring the full strategic potential of the new weapons. Although he had pushed for the development of the "bomb," Stalin played down its importance and did not encourage the military to formulate a new strategy incorporating nuclear weapons.

As is known, the "conspiratorial" abbreviation of the RDS, which was later assigned to other models of Soviet nuclear weapons (bombs, missile warheads and artillery shells), meant "a special jet engine," which, however, was interpreted by the regime's guardians as "Stalin's jet engine" , and scientists (much more successful) - "Russia is doing itself."

he number of nuclear bombs in the USSR at the dawn of the atomic project was small. In 1950, there were only five, in 1951 - 25, in the next - 50, and when Mikhalkov composed his soul-lifting poems, inspired by the test in August 1953, the first domestic thermonuclear warhead - 120, and this is against 1161 units such weapons from the United States. But for the American bases in Europe and Asia, the nuclear potential of Soviet aviation really posed a threat.

Totsky 1954 A milestone event was the creation in KB-11 of a compact nuclear bomb RDS-4 "Tatyana" for tactical aviation, specifically for the Il-28 jet front bombers. According to its mass-size characteristics (the weight of the bomb was 1.2 tons), it did not differ from the conventional high explosive, and the nuclear charge for Tatiana was taken from RDS-2. On August 23, 1953, it was tested with a dump from an airplane. The explosion power was 28 kilotons. To some extent, this should be considered a response to the appearance in the US Air Force of tactical bombers V-45 "Tornado", one of which May 1, 1952 was dropped 19-kiloton nuclear bomb Mk.7 "Tor". In principle, "Tatiana" could be placed even on the piston bombers Tu-2. Directly under the RDS-4 in the design bureau of Alexander Yakovlev created a "high-speed bomber special purpose" Yak-125B, but it did not go into series production because of the subsonic flight speed.

Following Tatiana, Soviet scientists and designers created the tactical nuclear bomb 8U49 Natasha, which was supported by the supersonic aircraft of the front-line aviation - the light bomber Yak-26. The Yak-26 aircraft produced by the small series, and the more advanced large-scale front-line Yak-28 bombers also armed themselves with the Tatyana.

Further optimization of nuclear charges allowed specialists of NII-1011 (now VNIITF) to create a tactical atomic bomb of low power (five kilotons) 8U69, intended for use with external suspension of supersonic aircraft. To do this, SN69, also known as the "244H" product, had a special spindle shape with low aerodynamic resistance - a bomb of only 450 kilograms.

Modifications of the MiG-19S supersonic fighters (version SM-9/9) and MiG-21F (E-6/9) of the Design Bureau of Artem Mikoyan were completed under 8U69. These machines were successfully tested, but the supersonic fighter-bomber Pavel Sukhoi Su-7B was chosen as the main carrier of the nuclear bomb 8N69 by the command of the Air Force at the turn of the 50s-60s. It was he, and not the Yak-28, that for a whole decade became the main shock complex of Soviet frontline aviation.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union launched R&D to miniaturize and improve reliability of nuclear weapons. Air Force tactical units began receiving new, smaller nuclear bombs, which could be carried by supersonic fighters and attack aircraft. Nuclear depth charges were also developed for use against submarines, including those operating under the ice cap. Development activities included strategic systems for the Navy; cruise missiles, aviation bombs and artillery projectiles [the smallest nuclear charge was developed for a 152mm artillery projectile].

In the 1960s, before development of the concept of limited nuclear war, Soviet strategists debated whether or not nuclear war could be a rational tool of policy because the widespread destruction it would cause could prevent it from promoting socialism's final victory. Some Soviet leaders, notably Nikita S. Khrushchev and the Soviet military theorists who shared his views, maintained that, considering the extremes of nuclear violence, nuclear war could not be a continuation of politics by means of armed force. In the 1970s, Leonid I. Brezhnev claimed that whoever started a nuclear war would be committing suicide, and he asserted that the Soviet Union would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

In 1965, they created a MiG-21N (also E-7N) aircraft for a new generation of the RN-25 nuclear bomb. As carriers, high-speed operational and tactical scout-bombers of the MiG-25RB family were also considered, and, what is noteworthy, Western analysts for a long time had no idea of ??their potential.

As stated in the American magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology (number for May 2, 1988) with reference to the US Department of Defense, about one third of the 4,000 Soviet fighter planes for delivering nuclear bombs were intended. Among the ammunition mentioned RN-40 with a capacity of 30 kilotons, the carrier of which was a front-line fighter MiG-29. According to the information provided by the American reference book on Soviet military aviation Russia's Top Guns (Aerospace Publishing, 1990), one TN-1000 fighter-bomber was suspended on the Su-17 fighter-bomber, and two TN-1200s were suspended on the MiG-27. The TN-1000 and TN-1200 bombs (and others) entered the standard armament of the front-line Su-24. These aircraft (Su-24M), taking on board up to four "special" bombs, today form the basis of the striking power of Russian tactical aircraft, although they are already replaced by the Su-34.

By the 1980s, Soviet civilian and military leaders adopted a similar stance, repeatedly declaring that no victor could emerge in a general nuclear war and that it would lead to the destruction of humanity. These statements seemed to modify Lenin's dictum that war is the continuation of politics.

These events of the 1990s, full of drama, the struggle for the survival of nuclear centers, still await their description.

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Page last modified: 28-09-2018 11:22:49 ZULU