START nuclear weapons data does not inspire confidence

though not yet 1 year old, the New START treaty is already beginning to increase uncertainty about the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces,”

U.S. Releases New START Nuke DataNTI Global Security Newswire,  Oct. 26, 2011 The United States as of last month officially had 1,790 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, while Russia had fielded 1,566 long-range weapons, according to details from a semiannual information swap mandated under a strategic nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries (see GSN, Aug. 5).

 The United States had 822 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers deployed at the time of the exchange, the State Department said in a fact sheet released last week. Russia wielded 516 such launch-ready delivery vehicles.

The count of U.S. bombers and ballistic missile firing platforms totaled 1,043, including fielded and reserve systems. Russia reported holding 871 bombers and missile firing platforms.

The New START pact, which entered into force on February 5, requires the sides to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 strategic systems permitted in reserve. The treaty calls for the nations to regularly share quantities, siting and schematics of armament equipment and sites (U.S. State Department release, Oct. 20)……

….As a result, though not yet 1 year old, the New START treaty is already beginning to increase uncertainty about the status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces,” Hans Kristensen, director of the organization’s Nuclear Information Project, said in the analysis.

The sides have carried out “a very modest combined reduction of 19 warheads and 65 delivery vehicles in seven months,” Kristensen added. “Apparently [the] two nuclear superpowers are not in a hurry.”

In addition, the countries possess “thousands” of strategic and tactical nuclear warheads not covered by the pact, the expert noted. “To put things in perspective, the U.S. military stockpile includes nearly 5,000 warheads; the Russian stockpile probably about 8,000. In addition, thousands of retired, but still intact, warheads are in storage for a total combined U.S. and Russian inventory of perhaps 19,000 warheads,” he stated.

Russia’s new warhead deployment occurred alongside the nation’s five-system drop in the number of fielded delivery vehicles since last February, from 521 to 516, Kristensen wrote. Information released by the two governments does not make it possible to determine the fashion in which changes were occurring, he added: “As a result, transparency of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces is decreasing.

“Part of the explanation is the deployment of additional RS-24 ICBMs, which carry three warheads each. But that’s a limited deployment that doesn’t account for all. Other parts of the puzzle include continued reduction of the single-warhead SS-25 ICBM force, the operational status of individual Delta 4 SSBNs [ballistic-missile submarines], and possibly retirement of one of the aging Delta 3 SSBNs.”

The United States, meanwhile, now has 10 fewer deployed warheads than in February, for a new total of 1,790, the expert said. The count of fielded delivery systems has dropped from 882 to 822, which he said “probably reflects the removal of nuclear-capable equipment from so-called ‘phantom’ bombers. These bombers are counted under the treaty even though they are not actually assigned nuclear missions. The U.S. has not disclosed the number, but another 24, or so, ‘phantom’ bombers probably need to be denuclearized. Stripping these aircraft of their leftover equipment reduces the number of nuclear delivery vehicles counted by the treaty, although it doesn’t actually reduce the nuclear force.”….


“The U.S. force will retain a huge upload capability with several thousand nondeployed nuclear warheads that can double the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles if necessary,” he wrote. “Russia’s ballistic missile force, which is already loaded to capacity, does not have such an upload capability.

“This disparity creates fear of strategic instability and is fueling worst-case planning in Russia to deploy a new ‘heavy’ ICBM later this decade,” Kristensen wrote (Federation of American Scientists release, Oct. 24).

To date, the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers of the two governments have traded nearly 1,500 notifications regarding nuclear-weapon transfers, test-firings and alterations of information, according to the State Department. The countries have completed three displays mandated under the pact: one of Russia’s RS-24 ICBM and firing equipment, one of the U.S. B-1 bomber and another of the U.S. B-2 bomber….

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