The Russian military has conducted four tests of nuclear-capable intercontinental missiles from submarines and a mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), according to the Ministry of Defense.
Officials said that three ICBMs were fired as part of a routine exercise of Russian strategic nuclear forces.
“A squad of the Strategic Missile Force fired a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile from Plesetsk towards the Kura test range in Kamchatka,” the MoD said. The missile was launched from a road-mobile transporter erector launcher. The Plesetsk space center is located in Arkhangelsk Oblast, approximately 800 kilometers north of Moscow.
Also, “a nuclear submarine of the Pacific Fleet carried out a salvo launch of two ballistic missiles from the Sea of Okhotsk towards the Chizha testing range in the Arkhangelsk region,” the MoD said. “A nuclear submarine of the North Fleet fired a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea towards Kura.”
In addition, the exercises involved strategic Russian air force bombers including the supersonic Tu-160, Tu-85MS, and Tu-22 MZ. The bombers launched cruise missiles at ground targets located at the Kura and Pemboi testing ranges in Kazakhstan’s northeastern region of Komi.
The MoD said all missiles successfully struck their targets.
The missiles launched from the strategic bombers were likely Kh-101/Kh-102 (the nuclear variant of the Kh-101) air-launched cruise missiles with an estimated range of 2,700 to 5,000 kilometers (1677 to 3,100 miles).
The submarines involved in the exercise are most likely Soviet-era Project 667BDR Kal’mar (Squid) Delta-III , Project 667 BDRM Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) armed with the R-29R/R-2S (NATO reporting name: SS-N-18 Stingray) ICBM, or Project 955 Borei-class (“North Wind”) aka Dolgoruky-class SSBNs armed with the Bulava (RSM-56) ICBM — a sea-based variant of the Topol-M — capable of carrying up to ten warheads.
The Borei-class of SSBNs is slated to replace Project 941 Typhoon-class and Delta-class SSBNs in the next few years as these older boats are slowly getting retired. The Russian Navy has also been working on an improved variant of the Project 955 Borei-class, the Project 955A Borei II-class, which will be capable of carrying up to 20 Bulava ICBMs rather than the 16 carried aboard the original Borei-class.
Analyst comment: There is some question over whether Russia is merely modernizing its nuclear force or building it up — or perhaps both. In February 2018 comes a deadline for implementing the New START treaty; in advance of that deadline, there have been fluctuations in the numbers of deployed Russian nuclear warheads reported under the treaty, triggering claims that Moscow is attempting to expand its arsenal ahead of time. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James has said she believes Russia is expanding its arsenal. Others say because Russia has far fewer strategic launchers than the U.S., it is compensating by maximizing the number of warheads each missile can carry.
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