Russian nuclear forces, 2020

Written by Hans M. Kristensen

The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. This issue’s column examines Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which includes a stockpile of approximately 4,310 warheads. Of these, 1,570 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while an additional 870 strategic warheads, along with 1,870 nonstrategic warheads, are held in reserve. The Russian arsenal is continuing broad modernization intended to replace most Soviet-era weapons by the mid to late 2020s.

Russia is in the middle of a decades-long modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces to replace Soviet-era weapons with newer systems. President Vladimir Putin reported in late 2019 that modern equipment now makes up 82 percent of Russia’s nuclear triad and that “our equipment must be better than the world’s best if we want to come out as the winners.” He further declared that Russia is “ready to work out new arms control agreements. But until this process is launched we will continue to strengthen our nuclear forces.” Moreover, he said, “we will continue to create other promising missile systems” to deter Russia’s potential adversaries (Russian Federation 2019a). These modernizations, combined with an increase in the number and size of military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries, contribute to uncertainty about Russia’s long-term intentions and growing international debate about the nature of its nuclear strategy. These concerns, in turn, stimulate increased defense spending, nuclear modernization programs, and political opposition to further nuclear weapons reductions in Western Europe and the United States.

As of early 2020, we estimate that Russia has a stockpile of roughly 4,310 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. Of these, roughly 1,570 strategic warheads are deployed: approximately 810 on land-based ballistic missiles, 560 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and 200 at heavy bomber bases. Another 870 strategic warheads are in storage, along with about 1,870 nonstrategic warheads. In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number – approximately 2,060 – of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement, for a total inventory of approximately 6,370 warheads.

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Hans M. Kristensen

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