As for the project of the new PAK-DA bomber (Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation), following the decision on the renewal of Tu-160 production, the terms of project implementation have become very vague: earlier, its first flight was planned for 2025, which now seems unlikely. The aircraft concept has not been revealed, but most likely it will be a subsonic stealthy missile carrier resembling the American LRS-B.
From a quantitative perspective, U.S. strategic aviation has a certain advantage over Russia’s. However, American aircraft are currently equipped noticeably more poorly: the operational range of the Russian Kh-101/Kh-102 cruise missiles already in service exceed their American analogues more than twice over, which guarantees that the Russian bombers will blow off their entire payload, from a secure distance, on any opponent. Nevertheless, shooting down a B-52H carrying an AGM-86B ALCM is a very uneasy task just as well. Besides, a B-2 carrying no cruise missiles could hardly realize its potential in a real global nuclear war, despite the fact that the platform itself is the most sophisticated in the world.
As for the further prospects, the B-21 program has just started, and it is unclear so far which difficulties it will face and whether it will be implemented in full. The same is true of the Russian PAK-DA project: the future of both vehicles is still vague. That cannot be said about Tu-160M2, whose start of production may not be easy, but is still feasible. Given the level Russian designers have achieved in the field of strategic cruise missiles, the profoundly modernized Tu-160 with its weapons will be able to fulfill its nuclear deterrence function for decades, as well as take part in local conflicts as necessary.
Strategic Nuclear Deterrence Will Persist For the Foreseeable Future
Now, let us briefly sum up the results of our series of articles on each of the components of the United States and Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons.
As far as we have understood, with its mobile launching platforms and more advanced antimissile defense penetration systems, closely approaching the creation of a maneuvering hypersonic warhead, Russia has a noticeable advantage over the United States in the field of land-based ICBMs. This, among others, may also be due to the fact that the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and has begun to actively develop this type of weapons, forcing Russia to respond asymmetrically to the forming threat.
As for submarines with SLBMs, the United States currently has more balanced forces in this area, due to the application of the Ohio-class nuclear submarines with highly reliable Trident II missiles. Nevertheless, Russia has managed to be the first to create a strategic nuclear submarine of the fourth generation; three Project 955 Borei submarines are already in service. Therefore, for some time before the United States has designed the Ohio replacement—SSBN(X)—the situation may be brought to balance or move to the Russian side altogether.
Strategic aviation has been discussed above. Its role in the implementation of nuclear deterrence is weaker than that of ICBMs and SLBMs, although it still occupies its niche. Today, one may speak of a situation close to parity in this area.
Summing up all the above, we may come to the only conclusion: nuclear weapon is still playing its main, positive role of deterring the world from global wars. What is more, the situation is not going to change in the foreseeable perspective—each step of the parties is followed by a quick response. Thus, as long as the United States develops its antimissile defense, Russia is going to develop ICBMs and warheads likely to penetrate this antimissile defense. The only beneficiaries in such a situation are weapons manufacturers, who will always have good financing. Therefore, all speculations and statements on the issue of nuclear war are either propagandistic or destructive—people simply do not understand what they are talking about.
Leonid Nersisyan is a military columnist for the REGNUM information agency (regnum.ru), Moscow, Russia.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Dmitry Terekhov.