During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union battled for global primacy. Although this rivalry often played itself out in proxy wars, the two superpowers obsessed over how a direct war between them would unfold. For the United States, conflict scenarios primarily envisioned using America’s technological advantages to offset the numerically superior Russian forces.
The end of the Cold War has greatly dampened the potential for conflict between Russia and the United States, and their massive nuclear arsenals make it further unlikely that they will come to blows. Nonetheless, the post–Cold War era did not herald an end to great-power politics, nor did it bring about anything approaching an alliance between Moscow and Washington. Real and persistent tensions have remained in bilateral relations, and these have grown considerably in recent years.
As such, U.S. and Russian strategists continue to draw up war plans for one another. In this endeavor, Russian military strategists have had to contend with America’s growing technology supremacy in many areas, with five weapons of war foremost in their minds:
1. Ohio-Class Ballistic Missile Submarines
Any analysis of the U.S.-Russian military balance must begin with their respective nuclear arsenals. And the core of America’s strategic deterrent is the Ohio-class Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN).
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Of the three legs of the nuclear triad, America’s fourteen Ohio-class SSBNs provide it with its “most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability.” Each submarine is at sea roughly 68 percent of the time, with seventy-seven days at sea followed by thirty-five days of in-port maintenance.
Each SSBN stretches 560 feet with a beam of 42 feet and a weight of 18,750 tons when submerged. Powered by a pressurized water reactor (PWR) and a single propeller shaft, the Ohio-class can travel over 25 knots at depths exceeding 800 feet.
Each vessel carries twenty-four Trident II D-5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles and four MK48 torpedoes. Developed by Lockheed Martin to replace the Trident I C4, Trident II SLBMs are three-stage, solid propellant, inertially guided SLBMs with a range in excess of 4,000 nautical miles (4,600 statute miles or 7,360 km). They have a greater payload capability than the Trident I SLBMs they replaced. Perhaps the biggest advantage Trident II SLBMs enjoy over their predecessors is a new, GPS-enabled navigation system that gives them a circular error probable of just 90-120 meters, as little as one fourth of the CEP of the Trident C-4.
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Trident II SLBMs also are equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), allowing them to carry up to eight warheads. Thus, each Ohio-class SSBN could carry up to 192 nuclear warheads on board. Altogether, America’s sea-based deterrent boasts 336 nuclear-armed missiles, with about half of America’s deployed nuclear warheads on board. However, under the terms of the New START Treaty, the United States will deactivate four of the missile tubes on each SSBN before 2018.
2. B-2 Stealth Bomber
When Ukraine began heating up in the spring of 2011, the United States sent a pair of B-2s to Europe on a short-range mission. Although the Air Force claimed their purpose was simply to train with European allies, the message to Russia was unmistakable.
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Indeed, the B-2 Spirit would almost certainly be an integral plan of any war between Russia and the United States, as its “revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers” like the B-52.
Particularly essential, in light of Russia’s more-sophisticated anti-air systems, is the B-2’s low observability, which is “derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures.” These make the plane highly survivable and allow it to penetrate the most sophisticated adversary defenses.
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The B-2 also boasts impressive range. With a fuel capacity of 167,000 pounds, each plane can travel around 6,000 nautical miles without being refueled, according to Northrop Grumman , the plane’s primary contractor. Although it flies at subsonic speeds, it can reach altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, which enhances its targeting capabilities. Speaking of targeting, it can receive retargeting information in the air. In fact, thanks to recent upgrades , B-2s can receive presidential orders directly, even in a postnuclear detonation environment.
The B-2 also has an enormous payload capability. Each plane can carry 20 tons (40,000 pounds) of conventional or nuclear weapons to drop on high-valued enemy assets. This makes it the only aircraft in the U.S. arsenal capable of carrying the 30,000-lb GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which can reportedly penetrate 200 feet of solid concrete before exploding. In other words, Russia can run, but it can’t hide from the twenty B-2 stealth bombers.