Russian ‘Super-Weapons’ and Nuclear Deterrence: 12 Month Outlook


    Key Judgement 1: It is unlikely that the RS-28 Sarmat, 9M730 Burevestnik, and Poseidon UUV weapons systems will be fully integrated into Russia’s strategic nuclear forces over the next 12 months.

    • Russia announced a new generation of nuclear warhead delivery and launch systems in 2018. The Russian armed forces have already received a number of these systems. Russia became the first state to deploy the hypersonic Khinzal ALBM in combat [source]. The Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle is currently on deployment in Dombarovskiy [source]. Russia claims that new, advanced nuclear weapons will give it the upper hand in the framework of nuclear deterrence.

    • US sanctions have severely damaged the ability of the Russian defence industry to operate at full performance [source]. Russian military equipment heavily incorporates western sourced components [source]. Russia has managed to find ways to evade the sanctions regime. Nonetheless, the cumulative pressure of embargoes and the war in Ukraine will delay the complete integration of the Sarmat into Russian nuclear forces beyond the next 12 months. 

    • The Russian Navy currently possesses two submarines capable of accommodating the 100-ton Poseidon [source]. Although Russian state media caused alarm by threatening the UK and US with the weapon, the Russian government has maintained since 2018 that the Poseidon will not be ready for deployment until 2027 [source].

    • The Burevestnik has encountered severe difficulties with its propulsion system, evidenced by the fatal 2019 radiation accident in Nyonoksa [source]. Recent reports indicate that Russia has largely expended its available arsenal of modern precision-guided missiles [source]. Russia is also lacking the necessary electronic components for manufacturing additional units, compounded by the current sanctions regime.

    Key Judgement 2: It is highly likely that advanced Russian nuclear weapons will drive the United States to invest in the development of missile defence systems over the next 12 months.

    • Russian state sources exaggerate a number of key details about the Poseidon UUV. Nevertheless, the vehicle’s key characteristics are of sufficient lethality and novelty.

    • The Sarmat has a shorter boost period after launch, designed to evade detection by the US Space-Based Infrared System [source]. The Department of Defense is decommissioning older satellites [source] and is expected to acquire a new unit next month [source].

    • Russia’s new weapons are a direct response to the termination of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 [source]. Enhanced Russian nuclear capabilities are now a driving force behind the US hypersonic weapons program [source]. In addition to developing its own variants, the US will likely have a vested interest in developing countermeasures. 

    Key Judgement 3: It is highly unlikely that the introduction of advanced Russian weapons will significantly alter the strategic calculus of nuclear deterrence in the next 12 months. 

    • Russia has possessed the ability to strike targets in North America with its existing ICBM stockpile since the early 1960s. The Poseidon is relatively slow and unreliable compared to traditional ICBM delivery vehicles. It has little strategic value beyond that of secondary-strike capabilities [source].

    • Russia’s Sarmat missile may pose challenges for detection and early warning systems. However, this advantage is marginal, as the US maintains an extensive stockpile of SLBMs aboard its Ohio Class submarines [source].

    • As the war in Ukraine siphons off technical resources available for testing and implementation, full integration of these new systems will not materialise until next year. It is therefore highly unlikely that the US will alter its nuclear posture by deploying additional warheads or increasing the number of warheads currently shared with EU and NATO partners in the coming 12 months. 

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 20th of June 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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