The Buzz

Can America Prevent Russia from Using Low-Yield Nukes?

Russian media have also reported that Russia has developed and deployed new low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. In 2004, Russian television displayed a new howitzer which it said: “…could be used to fire low-yield nuclear bombs.”[10] In 2013, Academician Yevgeniy Avrorin, a former Director of the Sarov nuclear weapons laboratory (the All-Russian Scientific-Research Institute), in an interview published by the Sarov laboratory, said the Russian 152-mm nuclear artillery shell with “a kiloton yield” has been “broadly deployed” throughout the Russian Army.[11] In 2009, Russia’s main official news agency ITAR-TASS (now called TASS) reported that, “The nuclear submarine Severodvinsk will be equipped with long-range cruise missiles that can potentially carry low-capacity tactical warheads.”[12]The 2018 NPR report indicates that Russia has CRBM (Close Range Ballistic Missiles) which would have to have low-yield warheads because of their limited range. Dr. Philip Karber, President of the Potomac Foundation, has stated that roughly half of Russia’s 5,000 tactical nuclear weapons have been modernized with new sub-kiloton nuclear warheads for air-defense, torpedoes and cruise missiles.[13]

Russia is also reportedly developing advanced low-collateral damage designs. In 1999, Major General (ret.) Vladimir Belous discussed the development of “neutron artillery shells, mortar shells, and operational-tactical missile warheads.”[14] A declassified CIA report gives this some additional credibility, noting, “A number of articles [in the Russian press] suggest that Russia is developing low-yield warheads with enhanced radiation that could be used on high-precision non-strategic weapons systems.”[15] Moreover, in 2013, the Sarov nuclear weapons laboratory said that during the Cold War they had developed a peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) device that was 99.85% based on fusion.[16] This is essentially a low-yield/low-collateral damage nuclear weapon. The only question would be its size and weight but, worst case, it certainly could be delivered by any strategic bomber which can deliver large and heavy weapons. Vice Admiral (ret.) Robert Monroe, former Director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, has recently stated that Russia is now 20 years ahead of the U.S. in such weapons.[17]

Pavel Felgenhauer has written that the Russian S-300, S-400, S-500 air defense missiles and the Moscow ABM are nuclear capable and have a secondary ground-attack capability.[18] While he did not mention yield, these missiles, two of which the Russians say are designed to intercept ballistic missiles and satellites in near space,[19] would have to have very low-yield warheads unless Russian leaders don’t mind destroying Russia with nuclear EMP effects from their own weapons. Both TASS and Sputnik News, both state media, have confirmed Felgenhauer’s report that the S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missiles have the capability to attack ground targets.[20] The 2018 NPR confirms the existence of nuclear warheads on Russian anti-aircraft missiles.[21]