Russia to modernize nuclear forces in 2023, add more multi-warhead nukes

Russia to introduce new multi-warhead nuclear missiles in invasion of Ukraine

Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/SERGEI KARPUKHIN)
Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS/SERGEI KARPUKHIN)

Russia is bolstering its strategic nuclear forces in 2023 with further deployment of multi-warhead nuclear missiles and further modernization of its long-range strategic bomber division, the Russian Defense Ministry announced this week.

The Strategic Rocket Forces branch of the Russian military is set to complete the replacement of the older Topol-M missile system with the RS-24 Yars among its mobile grouping, the ministry said on Tuesday.

The Yars mobile ground missile system is a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), which contains several thermonuclear warheads, each of which can hit different targets.

The Defense Ministry also said on Monday that the main tasks of the Long-Range Aviation division (ADD), which is tasked with Russia's nuclear-capable strategic bombers, would be training, servicing, modernizing and adopting new equipment as it takes part in the Ukraine war.

According to Interfax, ADD commander Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kobylash said last Monday that some of the new equipment will include modernized strategic nuclear bombers and the development and adoption of new hypersonic missiles.

In 2021, Kobylash told Interfax that MiG-31 jet fighters armed with nuclear-capable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles would enter his division. A Kinzhal with a conventional warhead was reportedly used during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and hypersonic missile-capable MiG-31s have been stationed in Belarus and Kalinigrad over the course of the military campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Admiralty Shipyards in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 27, 2019. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Admiralty Shipyards in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 27, 2019. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

"In the course of operational and combat training, the use of aviation weapons is planned,” Kobylash said on Monday. “Work will continue to improve the practical skills of operating automated control systems and information support for high-precision weapons. These tasks in 2023 will be solved during the participation of Long-Range Aviation in a special military operation [Russia-Ukraine War]."

Ukrainian response

Aircraft from the division have been previously involved in the war, launching cruise missiles against Ukrainian targets. According to Forbes, Tu-22M supersonic bombers were used to carpet bomb Mariupol during the siege of the city in April. Kobylash has been accused by the Ukrainian military of war crimes for the bombing.

"For the first time since the end of the Second World War, under his leadership, heavy bombers carried out carpet bombing of densely populated areas," said Ukrainian intelligence in a profile on the general.

Concerns over the potential use of tactical or strategic weapons have increased as the Russia-Ukraine War has progressed. Senior Russian military commanders have discussed how and when the Kremlin would use tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in Ukraine, The New York Times reported in early November.

Fiery rhetoric has added to these concerns. During his annexation speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that "those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can turn in their direction." Former Russian president Dimitry Medvedev also has said that strategic nuclear weapons could be used to defend territory annexed from Ukraine.

In its October 27 National Defense Strategy paper, the Pentagon presented a dire situation in the nuclear balance between the US and Russia.

"Russia continues to emphasize nuclear weapons in its strategy, modernize and expand its nuclear forces, and brandish its nuclear weapons in support of its revisionist security policy."

Nuclear Posture review