First Strike: The American Nightmare- Strategic Rocket Forces

*Authors note: The Iranian missile test will be addressed in a post tomorrow*


In November, 2015 Russian strategic forces were estimated to be comprised of 500 strategic launchers and between 1800-1900 warheads. The majority of launchers and warheads can be found in the Strategic Rocket Forces, which is the land-based component of Russia’s nuclear triad. The Russian navy has 8 ballistic missile submarines in its inventory at present. Five are stationed with the Northern Fleet and the remainder of boats are with the Pacific Fleet. In the air, Russia’s strategic bomber forces is comprised of 55 Tu-95 Bear H and 11 Tu-160 Blackjack bombers.

Whereas the United States has been content to modernize its forces instead of building newer systems and platforms for its nuclear forces, Russia has taken a different path.  In recent years, Russia’s strategic forces have been undergoing frequent modernization periods and new strategic platforms are being introduced. While the United States deploys the bulk of its nuclear warheads at sea on SLBMs, Russia has historically placed most of its nuclear striking power on ICBMs. Neither side places as much emphasis on strategic air power as they once did.

The Strategic Rocket Forces are a separate branch of the Russian Armed Forces responsible for control of the nation’s ICBM force. The current commander is Lieutenant General Sergei Karakayev. His command consists of 18,000 troops divided among three missile armies. These armies include eleven missile divisions The current total number of land-based missiles is 305. Of these missiles, 148 are mobile based. The remainder are housed in hardened silos. Unlike the US, which keeps its ICBM fore exclusively in silos, the SRF is a firm believer in the concept of mobility enhancing survivability. ICBMs on mobile launchers are more difficult to detect, thus more problematic for an attacker to destroy, even with nuclear weapons. This is one reason why Russia has historically invested more striking power on land based systems instead of at sea as the US has. There are five missile systems currently in service. The SS-18 Satan, SS-19 Stiletto, and SS-25 Topol missiles are silo-based. The SS-27 Topol-M and SS-29 is fielded are both silos and mobile launchers.

Another difference between US and Russian nuclear arsenals is that most Russian ICBMs carry multiple warheads. US Minuteman IIIs have been modified and now only carry a single warhead. This makes the SRF considerably more effective in the counterforce role and as a first strike tool.


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