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Atlas Triumphant – Russian Nuclear Capability Today

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Although the Cold War is over, and now the most prevalent threats to national security are conventional and asymmetric in nature, nuclear weapons will always remain an integral part of international security, in addition to being a political and diplomatic tool.

Aside from the United States, Russia has the most sophisticated nuclear capability and delivery platforms. This article will examine Russian nuclear capabilities, the evolution of nuclear doctrine in Russia, comparing it to other nuclear-capable states, and make predictions as to the role of nuclear weapons in Russia in the near future.

Russia is an officially recognized nuclear weapon state, as identified by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Russian Federation has several types of warheads and multiple types of delivery systems capable of transporting them. The Russian government “has been a strong supporter of nuclear nonproliferation treaties and regimes, and bilateral arms control treaties and initiatives with the United States have helped reduce the Russian arsenal substantially from its Soviet-era peak of about 40,000 warheads to approximately 4,300 according to a March 2013 estimate.” (Profile for Russia, 2015) Russia has a nuclear triad similar to that of the United States. A nuclear triad refers to the delivery systems of strategic nuclear weapons, typically launched by air, land and sea. In the case of Russia (and the United States), they have and use strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as the three pieces of their nuclear triad.

According to the most recent data exchange in March 2015 as part of the New START treaty, Russia “deploys 1,582 strategic warheads on 515 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. The actual number of deployed Russian warheads is likely higher since the treaty counts one strategic bomber as one operational deployed warhead, even though, for example, the TU-95 MS16 bomber can carry up to sixteen weapons. One open-source estimate from January 2015 put the actual number of operational Russian warheads at 1,900.” (Profile for Russia, 2015) Russia also has 305 ICBMs of five different variants. Collectively, their ICBM fleet could field 1,166 warheads. Three of their Soviet-era variants are being decommissioned, however, including the SS-18, SS-19 and SS-25, with replacements coming into service by 2022. These replacements include the creation of road-mobile ICBM launchers and an ICBM that contains multiple, independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs). (Profile for Russia, 2015) ICBMs can be launched quickly: a mission time of 30 minutes or less for an ICBM to be launched from Russia to the United States is realistic. (Nuclear Weapons, 2008)

While strategic rocket forces play the primary strategic role in the nuclear triad, the sea-based platform takes a less obvious, but no less important, role. In January 2015 Russia reported that its active strategic ballistic missile submarine fleet consisted of two Delta III subs in the Pacific Fleet, five Delta IV subs in the Northern Fleet, and one 995 Borey-class sub in the Northern Fleet. The Delta III submarines carry 16 SLBMs, each with three warheads. These subs are also being slowly being phased out in favor of the newer Delta IV-class subs. The Delta IV-class carries 16 SLBMs, each with the capability of carrying four warheads. The newest subs, the Borey-class subs, will have the ability to house sixteen SLBMs, with each SLBM able to carry up to six warheads. (Profile for Russia, 2015) SLBMs can be launched even more quickly: depending on their locations, SLBMs can reach their target in 15 minutes or less. (Nuclear Weapons, 2008)

The last arm of the strategic nuclear triad is air-based assets. In Russia, they have two heavy bombers that are capable of carrying out a nuclear mission: the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack. The Bear has two variants, the MS6 and the MS16. It is uncertain as to the number and operational status of their nuclear bomber fleet, as Russia does not declare this information under arms-control agreements. An open-source estimate made in January 2015 estimates that Russia has 55 Tu-95s and 11 Tu-160s. These assets can launch long-range missiles (air-launched cruise missiles, or ALCMs), short-range missiles, and gravity bombs. (Profile for Russia, 2015)

Tactical (non-strategic) nuclear weapons also make up a significant portion of the nuclear arsenal. However, Russia has never disclosed the amount and types of weapons they possess in this category. A March 2014 estimate puts the amount of Russian tactical nuclear weapons at 2,000. Scholars believe that these warheads are stored at facilities scattered about the country and are not mated to delivery systems.

The United States and Russia have the greatest involvement and greatest concern by far for the safekeeping and responsible holding of nuclear weapons. They have also had both the greatest rivalry and, paradoxically, the most cooperation concerning nuclear weapon matters. Through international treaties, international organizations, and several summit conferences, the United States and Russia have slowly cooperated on matters of nuclear security. Both countries have advocated for nuclear non-proliferation and have reduced the number of their strategic nuclear weapons. The other nuclear weapon states as recognized by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) are the United Kingdom, France and China. Four other states known or believed to have nuclear weapons are India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Both countries, the US and Russia, recognize the seriousness of the prospect of nuclear war, whether between each other or secondarily via some form of proxy war, and have agreed in the past that nuclear war is unacceptable. (Profile for Russia, 2015) And while both countries have always exhibited remarkable restraint in terms of honoring that commitment, the fact remains that both nuclear doctrines for these two countries contain stipulations and conditions upon which either may employ and feel justified to use nuclear weapons.

As one of the most powerful nuclear countries in the world, Russia will always carry an enormous potential problem to American national interests. Russia’s nuclear triad consists of sophisticated and capable delivery systems for all three legs: land, air and sea-based operations. It has a significant number of non-strategic nuclear weapons, as well, which are unaffected by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties made with the United States. Depending on how and where these assets are utilized the Russian Federation may have a nuclear capability even more disconcerting to the international community than its formal triad. To date, Russia has maintained its tradition of being a responsible member of the nuclear club, even if always being ready to verbally remind the global community of its capabilities. What remains to be seen is how might new conflicts and tensions on the global stage – Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, DAESH, Iran – put new dynamics into play between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. As this article shows, Russia is still a force to be reckoned with on the nuclear front. Forgetting that could be extremely hazardous to the global community’s health.

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A Matter of Ethics: Should Artificial Intelligence be Deployed in Warfare?

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The thriving technological advancements have driven the Fourth Industrial Revolution nowadays. Indeed, the rapid growth of big data, quantum computing, and the Internet of things (IoT) has been reshaping all human activities – it creates a new business model, removes geographical boundaries, and revamps the decision-making process not only on the individual level but also on the state level. It has also influenced all human dimensions, from economic and social sectors to the political sphere. One of the results of this transformation is the emersion of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is designed to recognize speech, learn, plan, and solve a problem. Generally, AI is described as a machine that can learn by itself, eventually imitating how the human brain works. 

In the past few decades, researchers have achieved a breakthrough related to AI development that significantly exceeds the projections of experts in this field. An AI specialist who created Go-Playing, also known as Alpha Go, in 2014 said that it would take another ten years for a computer to overcome human Go-Champion. However, one year later, a researcher at Google DeepMind successfully established a technology to defeat it. From this point forward, AI is progressing at a breakneck speed. According to Greg Allen and Taniel Chan in their research about Artificial Intelligence and National Security, the evolution of AI is driven by some key factors, including: (1) exponential development in computing capability; (2) enlarged data-set; (3) advancement in the application of machine learning method and algorithm; and most importantly (4) the fast expansion of business interest and investment in AI. 

There have been broad usages of AI in recent years, and it can be found in various programs and technological devices. AI has helped humans map and target markets, providing safer travel through a smart car or self-driving car, helping people predict the weather, and much more. The expansion of AI holds a promising future in many sectors, including in military dimensions. Its existence has become a huge turning point for creating autonomous weapons, vehicles, and logistic tools which could increase military capability. Robert Work, in his remark at CNAS Inaugural National Security Forum in 2015, stated that world leaders have been quick to recognize Artificial Intelligence’s revolutionary potential as a critical component of national security. It is proved by the increasing global investments in Artificial Intelligence for national security and the rising usage of AI in defense strategy.

The Usage of AI in Military Sector

Since World War II, semi-autonomous weapons have been deployed on the battlefields. This type of weapons system is continuously being developed in numerous countries. The massive growth of Artificial Intelligence, supported by extensive investments in this sector, has transformed semi-autonomous weapons into fully-autonomous ones. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), notably deployed by the US in Kosovo in 1999, were one of the first by-products resulting from this significant development. Back then, the US Defense had not thoroughly investigated how this technology might impact future military actions. 

Fast forward two decades after the first usage of UAVs in military operations, the US Government has successfully improved the AI aspect significantly. By 2019, the Sea Hunter Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV), owned by the United States Navy (USN), successfully sailed without crew from California to Hawaii. It was navigated by AI using a data set collected by the vessel’s onboard sensors, radars, and cameras. Further, the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) launched an AI-powered F-16 Fighter Aircraft in 2020. During some trials, this aircraft could defeat a comparable simulation controlled by a very experienced human. The number of funds invested by the US Department of Defence for AI development has also increased – from USD 600 Million in 2016- 2017 to USD 2,5 Billion in 2021-2022. This trend is not only happening in the US.  

China is now using AI to increase the speed and precision of its tactical decision-making by automating its command and control system. This practice effectively established predictive operational planning. Apart from that, the government of China has already begun testing AI-enabled USVs for future development in the South China Sea. Russia might lag, but Putin presumably does not want to be excluded in this race as the government has targeted 30 percent of its entire military forces to become robotic by 2025. Russia is also working on multiple fronts by conducting research focused on using AI in information operations and increasing the efficacy of land warfare operations. This indicates how AI has gained compelling popularity among various states regarding its military usage. It seems that the prospect of wars using robots with minimum or even no human involvement in the future would be inevitable.

Deploying AI in Warfare: Against Human Ethics?

Along with technological development, military warfare is also growing; both are interwoven. The emergence of Artificial Intelligence would bring up the same effect, if not more. The initial indications have clearly shown how AI will play a significant role in shaping future wars. Even when AI has yet to be tested in the harsh environment of the natural world of combat operations, its prospect for future warfare cannot be ignored. However, despite all its benefits to improving a state’s defense and offense capability, the increasing adoption of AI into military forces gives rise to a debate, mainly related to legal, ethical, and security perspectives. Current AI development can address some specific problems more consistently than humans. It can detect patterns and anomalies within vast unstructured data faster than humans. According to Peter Layton in his publication – Fighting Artificial Intelligence Battle: Operational Concept for Future AI-Enabled Wars – the latest generation of AI is influential in five main areas, including identifying, grouping, generating, forecasting, and planning. Humans can execute those activities, but AI can do those tasks efficiently and much faster. 

Nevertheless, some aspects need to be considered for further deployment of AI in warfare. With all of the intelligence an AI machine can uphold, it would still be vulnerable to cyberattacks, which brings more concern towards security. Furthermore, AI is still proven to be unably adapting to minor changes. It still has difficulties to apply the same knowledge to different contexts. And with human life at stake, this shortcoming is more or less unacceptable. In a war situation, where it is a matter of life and death, removing human footprints in the decision-making process would put ground morals and ethics at stake. After all, AI is not a human; in a general context, it should not be the one making a decision over a human.

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Between the Greater Russia and the MAD

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With ‘The Greater Historical Russia’, the impossible that the dream appears to be, and the Russian defeat at Liman and the attack on Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, the threat to use nuke by Russia has increased implying the ‘Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and the catastrophic time for Europe ahead. MAD, a term coined by Donald Brennan, a strategist working in Herman Kahn’s Hudson Institute in 1962, is flying high with the audience of IR theatre and war strategy. This has come in the wake of seven month long Russo-Ukrainian war that has lingered far longer than expectation, of course with the clandestine support of NATO. The whole gamut revolves around the Russian allegation against the US and the European counterparts that Russia is not like the African and Asian states and it won’t allow its colonisation with NATO reaching at its thresholds by accepting Ukraine as its new member. In a time when US is having tough time with China, the NATO’s insistence has pushed Russia further towards Asia.

The heat generated by the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict fuelled by NATO and its sympathisers on the one hand and Russia on the other reminds one of 35 days long deadlock of Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In 1961 in the aftermath of US deployment of Jupiter Missiles in Italy and Turkey Soviet Union had positioned its nuclear missiles in Cuba when the Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev signed an agreement with Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro in July 1962 over the deployment and the construction of a number of missiles launch facilities.

Now Russia after the occupation of Crimea and Sevastapol in 2014 has, in the midst of the war, unilaterally conducted a referendum against the world opinion on September 23, 2022 to annexe parts of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The annexation of about 15 percent of the territory of Ukraine is the first one after World War II and would not be digested by the world community easily. The Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg has even remarked that the NATO members “do not and will not recognise any of this territory as part of Russia”. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls them the ‘accession treaties’ that is the part of Russia’s unfinished task of the past to annex the ethnically Russian dominated areas. President Putin remarked that “The people made their choice, and that the choice won’t be betrayed by Russia. Occupied regions of Ukraine vote to join Russia in staged referendums. The Russian leader called on Ukraine to end hostilities and hold negotiations with Moscow – but insisted that the status of the annexed territories was not up for discussion (Mayens, September 23, 2022). The proposal implies forced annexation and a complete surrender, which could have been the option of President Volodymyr Zelensky, well before the calling for so much of destruction of life and material.

The Russian action calls for serious attention since it rips apart the spirit of international law and United Nations by opening up the alternative of forcible solution to the unfinished territorial agendas of different states. The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres remarked that in this moment of peril, I must underscore my duty as Secretary-General to uphold the Charter of the United Nations. The UN Charter is clear.  “Any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and international law (United Nations). The Russian actions entails UNSC response under article 39, 41 and 42 of United Nations Charter which may further alienate it from the world community.

The Russian action is not short of rather goes beyond the ‘China’s ‘Salamy Slice Strategy’ of annexing the opponent’s territory in a series of small operations. Should China and India follow the suit in Taiwan and Kashmir? There is a long list of unsettled territories and boundaries among states which may catch fire from the Russian action. Should the states put aside the peaceful negotiations and return to the pre-World War state of complete chaos and colonisation? This is a big question in the face of the nuclear threat posed by President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Western countries that his country’s nuclear threats are ‘not a bluff’. Vladimir Putin recapped to the world President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader has also advised President Putin to use low yield nuclear weapon (tactical weapon) to plug the NATO offensive against Russia in Ukraine. The use of such weapon would be less lethal (about 1 to 2 percent) to the one dropped in Hiroshima and help determine the war outcome. “Putin also issued the warning after accusing Western countries of resorting to ‘nuclear blackmail’, despite no NATO countries threatening to use nuclear weapons. The threat comes as Russia’s prospects in Ukraine are grim, with Putin’s military losing thousands of square miles of territory to a Ukrainian counteroffensive” (Hagstrom, September 21, 2022). President Biden has slammed Russia for having violated the core tenets of UN Charter. Nuclear war shouldn’t be fought as its solves nothing. But NATO will protect every inch of its territory. In the heat of exchange the nearing of catastrophe frightens the world. 

The Russian decision of mobilising citizens to bolster Ukraine invasion has evoked huge resistance from people. A Russian draft officer has been shot in Siberia region and people have thronged on to the streets to protest against the forced recruitment. Therefore, President Putin has been placed at two hostile fronts – domestic and international and his mercurial position is keeping everyone at the toes. Winston Churchill’s counsel of declaring ‘Diplomacy as the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions’ may sound interesting but let’s remember, Russia is not a state that looks for direction. But President Putin should remember that ‘as he has failed in Ukraine, the use of nuke may fail him more and bring assured destruction to Russia’.

References

Deudney, Daniel. (1983). Whole earth security: A geopolitics of peace. Washington: Worldwatch Institute. p. 80.

Hagstrom , Anders. (2022, September 21). Fox News. Putin warns West: Threat to resort to nuclear weapons ‘not a bluff’. Putin claims NATO countries are using ‘nuclear blackmail.

Maynes, Charles. (2022, September 30). NPR. Putin illegally annexes territories in Ukraine, in spite of global opposition.

Secretary General. (2022, September 29). Secretary-General’s remarks on Russian decision on annexation of Ukrainian territory [as delivered].  www.un.org 

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Urgency of Reviewing India-Pakistan’s CBMs & Risk Reduction Measures

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In an unprecedented event on March 9, 2022, India launched a missile, reportedly identified as the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which landed in Pakistan. After crossing the international border, the missile travelled 124 kilometres at an altitude of 40,000 feet into Pakistani airspace before impacting near the city of Mian Channu, Khanewal District. Following the incident, India started issuing clarification statements only after Pakistan reported the matter. In its first statement, India noted that the missile was accidently launched owing to a technical malfunction. Later, the Indian government changed its statement and termed it a human error, involving ‘possible lapses on part a Group Captain and a few others.’ Around six months later, India terminated the services of three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers, after a Court of Inquiry found ‘deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)’ by the officers and held them responsible for misfiring the missile.

Pakistan has rejected the purported closure of the incident and called the findings of the Court of Inquiry unsatisfactory and inadequate. While reiterating its call for a joint probe, Pakistan not only termed Indian clarifications ‘simplistic’ but also criticised the country for failing to immediately inform when the missile was launched. India’s failure to communicate the incident violated the 1991 agreement with Pakistan on preventing air space violations. Under the agreement, both India and Pakistan have to inform and investigate inadvertent violations of airspace promptly. Meanwhile, India also failed to activate the high-level military hotline to inform Pakistan. Both the countries maintain mechanisms of hotline contact between their Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to resolve misunderstandings.

Fortunately, the missile was unarmed and no lives were lost. Pakistan also responded towards the situation with restraint. However, the incident marks an alarmist event. Whether the incident was an accidental launch, an unauthorised launch, or a simulated exercise, it suggests not only shortcomings in India’s technical and procedural system but also shows its irresponsible behaviour as a nuclear weapon state. The incident also raises numerous questions about the country’s safety protocols, Command and Control (C2) of nuclear weapons and missiles, and communication mechanisms. The situation would have escalated if the accident had led to destruction or loss of lives, since there were several indications that Pakistani authorities had considered retaliation. Second, if the incident had taken place during a crisis, it could have led to inadvertent military escalation owing to miscalculations.

In this regard, there is a great urgency that both India and Pakistan collaborate on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to ensure that such accidents or unauthorised launches do not take place in the future. Even if they do, the two countries should be able to inform each other before any military response.

First, India and Pakistan need to review their joint 2005 Agreement on the Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles. The agreement covers surface-to-surface ballistic missiles only, and each country provides at least three days’ notice for a test launch. Both countries are obligated to not situate test launch sites within 40 kilometres of their shared border nor land a weapon closer than 70 kilometres from the border. However, the agreement has its limitations as it does not cover cruise missiles. In 2005, New Delhi declined to accept Islamabad’s proposal to include launch of cruise missiles in their joint agreement on pre-notification of ballistic missile launches. Currently, Pakistan and India have multiple and diverse types cruise missiles in their arsenal with high ranges. There is an urgency of expanding the pre-notification regime to include cruise missiles, including surface, air or sea-launched versions to avoid misunderstanding. Second, in order to avoid accidents in case of routine maintenance or inspection, India should efficiently and professionally ensure safety precautions regarding its missiles.

Additionally, India and Pakistan could also consider devising new Risk Reduction Measures (RRMs). For example, missiles that are scheduled to be inspected, both countries need to configure their weapons’ guidance systems to unoccupied places such as oceans or deserts where they pose minimum dangers. Moreover, the weapons’ pre-fed adversary target locations need to be removed while used for inspection, training, or simulated exercises. The maintenance of actual coordinates of adversary targets could lead to unintended escalation in accidental launches. These measures would not only help avoid accidents, they could also serve as an added layer of protocol to minimise the possibility of unauthorised launch.

However, accidents happen despite best safety protocols as there are limits of safety procedures. In such a possibility, there is a need of haste to communicate accidental launches. India needs to make use of existing channels of communication to avoid miscalculations in times of crises. The BrahMos missile incident indicates that crisis could erupt quite quickly between India and Pakistan. Unless the two countries adhere to their existing CBMs and establish new measures, mitigating such incidents and preventing risk of escalation could become a Gordian knot.

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