According to Bloomberg, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Strategic Command are working on a new evaluation of whether the Russian and Chinese leadership could survive a nuclear strike and keep operating. The Strategic Command is also directed to «provide a detailed description» for «how leadership survivability» and «command and control» in Russia and China are factored into the U.S.’s own nuclear war planning. The new study was ordered by Congress before President Donald Trump took office.
The findings will probably be taken into consideration as the new administration has initiated a new Nuclear Posture Review. According to the plans worked out under the former administration, a trillion-dollar modernization of the air-sea-land triad over 30 years will start in the mid-2020s.
The paper will include a lot of technical details and interesting facts but the main questions can be answered right now. Can Russia survive a nuclear strike? Yes, it can. Will it be able to respond timely? It will.
In 2017, there will be three new Voronezh-DM, energy-efficient, long-range surveillance radars operational in Orsk, Barnaul and Yeniseisk. The radar has a maximum range of up to 10,000 km and is capable of simultaneously tracking 500 objects. Its horizon range is 6,000 km and vertical range is 8,000 km. At a distance of 8,000 km, the radar can detect targets the size of a «football ball». Three operating radar stations in Baranovichi, Murmansk and Pechora have been upgraded. Together these radars guarantee early warning in case of attack from any direction.
Another Voronezh-DM is being built in Murmansk to upgrade the nation’s early warning capability. 2017 is the year when Russia has no gaps left in early warning coverage.
Missile launches are also detected from space by new early warning satellites. There will be ten of them operational by 2022. Upon receiving a timely warning, advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense systems will counter a strike.
Suppose, a missile gets through the defenses. There are well protected back-up command centers deep under earth capable to survive autonomously. There is ground to believe that they are well equipped, especially if one has a look at the Russian National Defense Control Center (NDCC) operational since 2015.
What if the defenses and protection fail and the ground-based command infrastructure is out of operation? The Ilyushin Il-80 Maxdome planes will come into play. The aircraft is meant to be used as an airborne command center for Russian officials, including the president, in the event of nuclear war. Operational since 2015, the «doomsday» airborne command post has the equipment to exercise control over ground forces, Navy, aerospace forces and strategic missile forces. There are four Il-80s in the Russia Aerospace Forces’ inventory.
Now about the capability to respond. Perimeter (Dead Hand), the Russia's ultimate defense system, will dispatch a retaliatory nuclear strike even if the command and communication lines of its Strategic Missile Forces are totally destroyed. There is no way to detect the system – which is a part of a single command and control network – hidden deep underground.
Russia’s capability to detect missile launches was tested in 2013. The highly advanced Vityaz air defense system in the Southern Military District detected two Israeli Popeye Turbo cruise missiles launched from a Dolphin-class submarine patrolling in the Eastern Mediterranean. They were «nearly immediately» destroyed by a US Navy Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer operating in the same area.
The Russian early warning system detected the launch of Iran’s ballistic missile in April, 2016.
Donald Trump has called for upgrading the US nuclear arsenal. According to him, «the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes». «Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all», said the president.
But Russia cannot be defeated by delivering a nuclear first strike. Instead, it can be engaged in a constructive dialogue. Modernization is not necessarily an arms race – something the US can hardly afford with its huge national debt. Russia and the US have done so much to have the arms control regime in place. The efforts were applied because both countries realized the madness of uncontrollable competition. Arms control is a great achievement to be preserved at any cost.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) expires in February 2021, just three years after the parties are required to complete reductions in 2018. It can be prolonged for 5 years more if the parties agree. This agreement is still to be reached. It remains unclear whether the United States and Russia can establish a new arms control regime.
With the first phone conversation a success, the parties could launch regular discussions of the overall direction of ballistic missile programs, exchange intelligence and review developments assessing the missile threats and ways to counter them. They could exchange views on what to do before the New START expires. Experts and researchers from both countries could join together to make their contribution into the process.
This is the time arms control and non-proliferation are in doldrums – the most serious and comprehensive crisis in the fifty-year history of nuclear arms control with almost every channel of negotiation deadlocked and the entire system of existing arms control agreements in jeopardy. Russia and the US could scope out the issues and agree on how formal negotiations should be conducted to reverse the negative trend. Hopefully, the emerging improvement of relations between the Russian and US leaders will create the right conditions to address the burning issues instead of engaging in the hopeless arms race that no one can win.