How Many Nonstrategic Warheads Does Russia Have?

On the radar: Counting Russia’s nonstrategic warheads; $633 billion defense bill; Blind spots and North Korea’s launch; The adaptative part of the phased approach; Senate losing nuclear expertise; and the Arms Control Person(s) of the Year.

December 19, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Marianne Nari Fisher

Russian warheads - A new report assesses that Russia has approximately 1,000 operationally assigned non-strategic nuclear warheads. Previous estimates have put that number at 2,000 or more. “These estimates also suggest, therefore, that the perceived numerical disparity between the number of US and Russian non-strategic nuclear warheads may not be as large as previously thought,” says the report.

--The study counts the nuclear-capable units within Russia’s armed forces and the number of non-strategic delivery systems available to each unit in estimating how many warheads Russia might have operationally deployed.

--Full report: “Atomic Accounting: A New Estimate of Russia’s Non-Strategic Nuclear Forces” by Igor Suyagin for RUSI. (pdf)

Defense Authorization - House and Senate negotiators agreed to a $633 billion Defense Authorization for FY13.

--The bill includes provisions researching a controversial east coast missile defense site and defies administration requests to keep funding a joint missile defense program (MEADS) with Germany and Italy. It also increases sanctions on iran’s energy, shipping and shipbuilding industries, and accommodates administration requests for added time to implement them. Donna Cassata at AP has the overview.

NDAA - Conference Report - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013” (pdf)

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: See @HASCRepublicans release on NDAA conference report here ( and @hascdemocrats release here (

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Launch & satellite - North Korea’s recent rocket launch was not a failure, as some early press reports suggested. Brian Weeden at Danger Room unpacks what is known of the launch.

--Included assessments: The launch was illegal under international law; The launch was unobserved by some US satellites but not all; The satellite is tumbling, rendering it mostly harmless; and the North conducted a rather sophisticated missile maneuver to put the satellite in intended orbit.

Blind spot - North Korea launched its rocket during the one-hour window in which US, allied and commercial imagery satellites did not have coverage of the launch. Coincidence? Perhaps not. Sattrackcam Leiden has the satellite-tracking analysis.

Syria - “A defector’s account of Syrian chemical weapons on the move” by David Ignatius of The Washington Post.

”Adaptive” approach - If the threat from Iran gets mitigated and the Iranians do not acquire a long-range missile, that could heavily factor into whether or not the US deploys its advanced SM-3 IIB missile defense interceptor in Europe, said former Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher at an event yesterday. Global Security Newswire has the story.

Tweet - @amsecproject: Watch the video - @EllenOTauscher on #MissileDefense and Strategic Stability

Outlook for N. Korea - “North Korea's political system, helmed by a young and unproven leader, faces severe challenges. The regime will not change because the West hopes that it will,” writes Victor Cha about the chances of liberalisation in the hermit kingdom.

--Cha argues that Kim Jong-un is in a precarious position, trying to navigate between an unsustainable and rigid, military ideology and the political risks he could face from opening to reform. Full article at Foreign Affairs.

Batter up - The Missile Defense Agency announced its test schedule for next year. The SM-3 Block IB missile is to get its first intercept test early next year. A complex test involving both THAAD and Aegis systems will occur before June. The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense is supposed to return to flight early next year as well. Defense Tech has the story.

Departures - The Senate faces a loss of arms control expertise next year after the retirement of Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. John Kerry’s expected nomination to become the next secretary of state. With their departures, the Senate loses a lot of expertise on the complexity, jargon, and history of arms control. Rachel Oswald at Global Security Newswire has the story.

Vote - Arms Control Association is hosting its annual contest for Arms Control Person of the Year 2012! Nominees include: Ban Ki-moon, Gen. James Cartwright, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, the government of Mongolia, and several others. Polls close at midnight Jan. 5.