Book Review

Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces

Pavel Podvig, ed.
MIT Press, 2001, 692 pages


B anned in Russia and smuggled into the West, this book provides a wealth of background information on intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons produced in Russia and the former Soviet Union between 1949 and 2001, including locations, dates, and operational and technical characteristics such as fuel and oxidant composition, payload, range, and guidance system. Also discusses some aspects of the command and control systems, drawing exclusively on publicly available information. Has tables showing the numbers of each type of ICBM and SLBM in operation in each year since 1956 and a comprehensive list of all Soviet nuclear explosions and their locations and explosive yields. Contains several maps of deployment locations and diagrams of the vehicles' exterior. Concentrates primarily on missiles, particularly the current generation of UR-100NUTTH, Topol-M, and R-36MUTTH/R-36M2 ICBMs but contains relatively little information on the warheads themselves. Stays strictly on topic, without even mentioning Scuds or non-nuclear weapons. The 65-76 Kit (Whale) torpedo, responsible for sinking the K-141 Kursk is also not mentioned. In some places, the book is somewhat repetitive; for example, the Perimeter system of command communication rockets is described twice. Many of the missiles are also described at least twice. `Suitcase nukes' and non-nuclear unconventional weapons are not mentioned.

Russian submarines, bombers, and satellite systems are also briefly discussed. Detailed engineering specifications and diagrams are not given, but the comprehensive information on designers, factory names, dates, and model numbers gives the reader a good overview of the subject.

Here is a typical paragraph:

A Soviet missile comparable to Tomahawk cruise missile, the R-55 Granat (SS-N-21), was developed at the Novator Machine-Building Design Bureau in Sverdlovsk (Chief Designer L.V.Lyulyev) in 1976-1984. This missile could be launched from a standard 533-millimeter torpedo tube and carry a 100-kiloton nuclear warhead to ranges of more than 2,500 kilometers. The third-generation attack submarines (Projects 671RTM, 945A, and 971) and some converted Project 667AT submarines were equipped with R-55 cruise missiles. The Meteorit-M (SS-N-24) supersonic cruise missile, developed by the Machine-Building Scientific Production Association was also tested in the USSR in the early 1980s. A strategic missile submarine, the K-420, was converted according to the Project 667M specifications to test this missile. The converted submarine became the only ship of the Project 667M class. Although the missile was tested successfully in December 1983 and a series of submarine launches was scheduled in 1984, the missile system was not adopted. In 1991 the presidents of the United States and the Soviet Union made unilateral pledges to remove tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear SLBMs from all their surface ships and submarines. The cruise missiles on attack submarines are now equipped with conventional warheads.
Most people will probably never see a RT-23UTTH ICBM or an R-55 cruise missile. This is probably for the best. Red October this book may not be, but as the nuclear age fades into history, information like that contained in this book will be essential in our understanding how weapons development influenced the cold war, arms control, and contemporary strategic policy.
January 20, 2002 Back