Russia Conducts Surprise Nuclear Readiness Drill

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Russia Conducts Surprise Nuclear Readiness Drill

On Wednesday Putin oversaw a large snap drill that tested the readiness of Russia’s nuclear forces.

On Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a snap drill testing the readiness of its nuclear deterrent Ria Novosti reported, citing Russian officials.

A Putin spokesperson confirmed that the drill had taken place. “The exercise involved launches of ballistic missiles, drills by air defense and missile defense units,” Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson said, adding that all the missiles hit their intended targets.

Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the exercise in a statement. “Missile Forces conducted launches of a RS-12M Topol ballistic missile from the Plesetsk space center [in northwestern Russia] and a RS-20V Voyevoda ballistic missile from the Dombarovsky missile site [in central Russia],” the statement said. The targets the missiles hit were located in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula located in between Japan and Alaska.

Stars & Stripes reports that in addition to these ICBM, Ballistic Missiles were launched from two of Russia’s ballistic missiles submarines (SSBN) belonging to the Northern and Pacific fleets. It was not immediately clear if those missiles were also fired at targets in Kamchatka.

The missile defense drills that Peskov alluded to reportedly consisted of Russia’s sophisticated S-300 and S-400 systems being tested at a range in Astrakhan region in southern Russia. Of these missile defense drills, Russia’s Defense Ministry said they “destroyed over 15 drones simulating aircraft and ballistic missiles flying at various altitudes and speeds in a massive strike [against Russian air defenses].”

The drills actually went international when a missile interceptor was tested in Kazakhstan. The Defense Ministry said the interceptor missile successfully destroyed a ballistic missile.

Over roughly the past year Putin has ordered a number of snap military drills of various kinds and magnitudes with the stated goal of ensuring Russian forces’ readiness. The largest of these drills took place in Russia’s Far East in July of this year, and consisted of 160,000 servicemen, 1000 tanks, 130 planes and 70 ships. It was the largest military exercise Russia had conducted since the Soviet era and it appeared to be intended to send a message to China and Japan.

Russia has made its nuclear and missile forces a particular focus of its ongoing military modernization effort. Shortly before reassuming office for his third term as Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin wrote an article in Foreign Policy magazine in which he underscored the special importance Moscow places on its strategic deterrent.

In a possible swipe at President Obama’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, Putin wrote in the article, “We will, under no circumstances, surrender our strategic deterrent capability. Indeed, we will strengthen it.”

Putin has made good on his promise since then. U.S. officials told The Washington Times in March of this year that the month before Russia had conducted a massive nuclear drill in February that tested the transport systems for Moscow’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. It was reportedly the largest drill of its kind since the Soviet era. American officials also noted at the time that Russia had been increasing the frequency of its strategic bomber flights near the U.S.-controlled territory of Guam.  

Then, in June, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its Strategic Missile Forces units would conduct over 200 drills in the coming six months. Wednesday’s test appears to have been one of them.

Besides ensuring readiness, Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces. As part of this effort Moscow has announced that it will deploy a new heavy liquid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile by 2018. It has promised the new ICBM will be superior to all previous Russian missiles in terms of its combat effectiveness and ability to evade U.S.-led missile defense systems. Already it has developed a new solid-propellant ICBM, the RS-26, which it has said it will test by the end of this year. Moscow has given few details on the specifications of the RS-26 ICBM at this time. There have been reports and speculation that the RS-26 ICBM will come equipped with a new warhead.

Despite the recent, more intense focus on its nuclear forces, Moscow has really come to prioritize its nuclear forces since the fall of the Soviet Union severely degraded its conventional military power. For example, the Russian Federation rescinded the Soviet Union’s no-first-use nuclear pledge, suggesting Russia might in some circumstances use its nuclear arsenal to counter non-nuclear military threats.