Russian nuclear weapons stand out in defense budget request

Source: Defense News
By Alexander Bratersky

Russia plans to gradually increase spending on its nuclear weapons capabilities over the next three years, according to the draft of the national budget currently under debate in parliament.

The funding proposal to upgrade Russia’s nuclear arsenal comes as the military awaits new hypersonic missiles to replace its Soviet-era strategic weapons.

Speaking to lawmakers of the lower chamber on Oct. 28, the head of the Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, described the budget proposal as “balanced.”

Under the proposal, 2022 and 2023 would each see national defense spending total approximately 3.5 trillion roubles (U.S. $49.3 billion), and 3.8 trillion roubles in 2024.

Upgrading the country’s nuclear arsenal remains a priority for the Kremlin. Kartapolov said 49 billion roubles will be allocated for the nuclear armed complex on an annual basis from 2022-2023. The figure for 2024 will be about 56 billion roubles.

“The increase in spending is most likely caused by the need to modernize a large number of nuclear charges produced in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s,” Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Defense News.

He noted that the majority of Topol, UR-100N (RS-18A) and R-36 (Р-36) intercontinental ballistic missile systems are nearing their retirement age.

“These are many hundreds of warheads that are being dismantled,” he said. “The beginning of the deployment of new multiheaded, heavy Sarmat ICBMs will require a sharp increase in the rate of production of nuclear warheads, as well as the ongoing construction of submarines with Bulava missiles.”

The Bulava missile was launched from the submarine Knyaz Oleg during an Oct. 21 test, successfully hitting its target.

The commander of Russia’s strategic force, Col Gen. Sergei Karakayev, previously said the country wants to replace all of its Soviet-era missile systems by 2024. For example, Russia’s nuclear forces want to replace the R-36 Voyevoda (Satan) missile with the new Sarmat RS-28 weapon.

Among other spending priorities is an increase of payment to soldiers serving under contract. The additional spending will gradually increase from 28.4 billion roubles in 2022 to 44.4 billion in 2023 roubles, but will decrease to 1.8 billion roubles starting in 2024.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March 2020 that there were more than 405,000 soldiers serving under contract in the Russian military; that’s nearly half of all service members.

The federal budget bill for 2023-2024 was passed in the first reading in the Duma, which is controlled by the ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin. A second reading of the bill is set for Nov. 23.

The bill then goes to the Federation Council, which is the upper house of parliament; it will likely pass the legislation. After that, it heads to Putin’s desk for his signature of approval.

On Nov. 1, Putin began his annual meetings with senior defense officials to discuss national defense issues. Russian media reported that closed meetings will include budgetary topics.