The Big Five
Russia inherited its nuclear weapons industry from the former Soviet Union. Unlike all the other segments of the Soviet defense industry, the manufacture of nuclear weapons was concentrated on the territory of Russia proper, so none of its key assets were lost when the former Soviet Union split up into its constituent republics.
Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear industry giant, has a special Nuclear Weapons Directorate, which includes two key divisions: the Nuclear Ammunition Industry Department, and the Department for Developing and Testing Nuclear Ammunition and Military Power Plants. 1
The development and manufacture of nuclear weapons is consolidated within five key state-owned facilities controlled by the two Rosatom departments:
The Russian Federal Nuclear Center — All-Russian Science and Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFYaTs-VNIIEF) in the town of Sarov, Nizhniy Novgorod Region;
The Russian Federal Nuclear Center — All-Russian Science and Research Institute of Technical Physics (RFYaTs-VNIITF) in the town of Snezhinsk, Chelyabinsk Region;
The All-Russian Automation Science and Research Institute (VNIIA) in Moscow;
The Elektrokhimpribor combine in the town of Lesnoy, Sverdlovsk Region;
The Instruments Plant (Priborostroitelnyy Zavod, PSZ) in the town of Trekhgornyy, Chelyabinsk Region.
Mass production is now concentrated at Elektrokhimpribor and PSZ2. In Soviet times assembly and disassembly of nuclear ammunition was also conducted at the Start Production Company in the town of Zarechnyy, Penza Region – but mass production at the facility ended in 2002. The company remains part of Rosatom’s Nuclear Ammunitions Industry Department, but it has switched to new productions – namely, the Khrizantema (AT-15) anti-tank missile, and components of the Igla-S (SA-24) portable AA missile system. 3
The remaining Big Five employ about 47,000 people, according to 2011-2012 figures (see Table):
In recent years various officials have repeatedly said that the Rosatom subsidiaries make all deliveries under defense procurement contracts precisely on schedule and exactly to the required specifications. In October 2012 Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin, the cabinet member in charge of the defense industry, even quipped that Rosatom was running like a clock and didn’t require any of his supervision.9
The Russian government has never released figures about its spending on the nuclear weapons industry or the size of the contracts for nuclear weapons. There is every reason to believe, however, that these contracts are very large. The financial figures released by one of the Big Five, VNIIEF, give a rough idea of the kind of money involved. In 2011 the Rosatom subsidiary paid about 4.8 bn roubles in taxes. It also paid about 3.2 bn for various services provided by civilian companies in the town of Sarov in 2009-2010, and 3.5 bn-3.8 bn in 2011-2012. The subsidiary’s procurement budget is about 14 bn roubles.10 By the standards of any Russian defense company, these figures are enormous.
But the financial fortunes of the Russian nuclear weapons industry have not always been so rosy. That industry was to some extent shielded from the full brunt of the crisis which hit the rest of the Russian defense sector in the 1990s. Nevertheless, it was also affected by major cuts in government spending. The mass production facilities were especially hard-hit. At one point Elektrokhimpribor had run up large debts for electricity and central heating because the government was not disbursing the money owed to the company on schedule. Its payments to the national Pension Fund were also in arrears, and on several occasions the taxman even came knocking on its door. It was forced to look for alternative sources of revenue so as to be able to finance production under defense procurement contracts. For example, it used its SU-20 isotope separation facility (an electromagnetic separator) in Lesnoy to produce stable isotopes, which it sold to Britain’s Amersham and Canada’s Trace. 11
The financial situation of the Big Five took a turn for the better thanks largely to the rearmament program in Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces, which includes new weapons R&D and mass production projects.Strategic weapons contracts
In the 1990s the Russian defense industry began the development of the Topol-M (SS-27) ICBM. This was one of the first programs which helped to revitalize the nuclear ammunitions sector. The nuclear warhead for the new missile was developed at VNIIEF by Design Bureau No 2 (KB-2);12 the project was led by the bureau’s chief designer, Georgiy Dmitriev.13 Elektrokhimpribor then managed to launch mass production so expeditiously that its director-general Leonid Polyakov (who held the job in 1995-2003) and several other senior managers were given the State Prize by President Putin at a special ceremony in the Kremlin. 14 Mass production was also launched (probably some time later) at PSZ in Trekhgornyy. Such a conclusion can be made based on one of the contracts announced by the government in 2007. The official notice inviting bids for the contract said that the winner would be required “to supply equipment to PSZ under the Topol-M program”.15
In addition to entering into service the new Topol-M ICBMs, the MoD commissioned the development of new re-entry vehicles (RVs) for the R-29RMU (SS-N-23) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The old RVs were approaching the end of their service life. It was decided to develop a new model based on the design of the re-entry vehicles used on the R-39UTTKh Bark (SS-N-20) SLBMs. The R&D program, codenamed Stantsiya, was conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s by the Makeyev State Missile Center (GRTs) and VNIITF. 16 A total of 58 RVs built for the Bark missile were tested during 20 launches of experimental missiles. As a result, a team lead by chief designers Aleksandr Senkin and Geliy Zelenkin developed a new warhead for the updated R-29RMU1 SLBM. The RV was of an intermediate yield class and had improved safety mechanisms to prevent accidental or unauthorized detonation. On August 5, 2002 the president signed a decree authorizing the MoD to enter it into service. VNIIA was also involved in the development of the new warhead. In 2003 one of its top managers, Aleksandr Mokritsyn, as well as senior GRTs and VNIITF officials were awarded the State Prize for their part in the project.
In later years new re-entry vehicles with “improved efficiency and safety features” were used to upgrade the R-29RKU-01 SLBM (the Stantsiya-2 R&D project). The R-29RKU-02 missile underwent joint flight testing in 2005, and entered service in 2006. The new RVs were also used on the new R-29RMU2 Sineva SLBM, which entered into service on July 9, 2007.17 All the remaining Project 667BDRM Delfin (Delta IV class) strategic nuclear missile submarines still in service with the Russian Navy are currently being re-fitted to carry the Sineva missile.
The next phase in the development of nuclear ammunition came when the Moscow Thermal Engineering Institute (MIT) began to work on new strategic missiles with MIRVed warheads: the land-based Yars ICBM (SS-29, sometimes also designated as the Topol-MR and the Topol-M218), and the Bulava (SS-N-30) SLBM. The warheads for these two missiles were developed by VNIITF19, but six years ago the then VNIIEF chief, Radiy Ilkayev (who held the position in 1996-2008) claimed that his institute “was also involved in developing the re-entry vehicle for the Bulava system”.20
The new RV is currently in service with the Yars ICBM21, which is now being deployed with the Strategic Missile Troops (the MoD has repeatedly said that the deployment of the single-warhead Topol-M missiles has already been completed). Meanwhile, the Bulava has yet to enter into service with the Russian Navy. Very recently it was revealed that in 2003-2010 the mass production design bureau of the Elektrokhimpribor combine was “working on the designs of the Bulava ballistic missile”.22
The fact that the Bulava payload section performs adequately was confirmed during its flight tests back in October 2010, once the telemetry data had been processed23 According to the first deputy chief of VNIITF, Rodion Voznyuk, another confirmation came during a salvo launch of two Bulava SLBMs on December 23, 2011. “Performance was deemed to be adequate; three of our products worked as expected and arrived at their destination,” Voznyuk said.24
As soon as the new RVs arrived, the Navy predictably decided to get them to work with the mass-produced R-29RMU2 SLBM while also retaining complete standardization in terms of the boosters, the payload section, and the guidance system of the missile. To that end the MoD commissioned the Layner R&D program, which began in 2009 and was completed in 2011 by GRTs. Following successful joint flight tests completed in 2011, the R-29RMU2.1 SLBM can now be fitted with 10 low-yield RVs equipped with standard missile defense countermeasures; eight low-yield RVs with enhanced missile defense countermeasures; or four medium-yield RVs (see above) with missile defense countermeasures. The missile can also carry a combination of two types of re-entry vehicles.
In 2011 an official source mentioned “modern low-yield nuclear ammunition being developed for use with future missiles and for replacing the existing low-yield warheads currently deployed on naval missile systems”. The source in question is “Naval Strategic Missile Systems”, a large volume edited by the head of the Federal Space Agency, Vladimir Popovkin. It says that the new ammunition was developed by VNIITF “using a compact thermonuclear device with improved yield and new automatics designed by VNIIEF”, and that it is “the first nuclear device to use an inertial adaptive detonation system”. It is not clear whether the source refers to a nuclear device developed for the already mentioned new RVs (Layner and similar type) or to some other new product. But the information itself is reliable because the team of editors which worked on the book included the then head of VNIITF, Georgiy Rykovanov (who held the job in 2007-2012).
Further progress on the nuclear ammunition front will clearly be linked to the development of new strategic missile systems, which is already under way. Speaking in 2011, the commander of the Strategic Missile Troops, Sergey Karkayev, had this to say: “The industry is developing a new missile system with a medium-class missile equipped with a new type of payload section. One of the missile divisions will be armed with this new system by early 2015”.26 Lt Gen Karkayev was probably referring to the latest MIT design, a missile which was tested on May 23 and October 24, 2012. It was described in the reports as “a prototype of a new ICBM”.27
In his earlier comments to the media, MIT chief designer Yuriy Solomonov described his institute’s vision of new payload designs for future missiles. “In 2010 we made a radically new step in developing a new type of payload section,” Solomonov said. “It is the result of integrating the ballistic type of payload with individual dispensing of warheads, which replaces the old so-called bus design.” He went on to say that a missile designed using this principle “practically ceases to exist as a single whole once the last booster stage has stopped firing”, and that “the task is now to adapt this idea for use with the existing missiles and missile systems”.28
MIT is not the only company working on new warheads. A new type of payload section was also tested during the launch of the UR-100N UTTKh (the SS-19, designed by the Machinery Science and Production Company) on December 27, 2012. 29 Meanwhile, GRTs has already begun developing a new heavy liquid-fuel ICBM as part of the Sarmat R&D project. 30
According to recent reports in open sources, VNIITF is currently developing at least two new warheads for SLBMs; the projects are led by the institute’s chief designer, Sergey Andreyev. One of them is “a new-generation nuclear warhead which will enhance the combat readiness of the naval strategic nuclear forces”. As of 2011, the project was at the “research and early design stage”.31Other interesting developments
There is very little information in open sources about the development of nuclear ammunition for the Russian strategic bomber fleet. The only report we are aware of says that in 2003-2010 the mass production design bureau of the Elektropribor combine was “working” with the “designs of a cruise missile for strategic bombers”. 32 It has also been reported that VNIITF has “delivered to the Air Force several types of upgraded aerial bombs” .33 Another tidbit is that in 2007 the Russian government awarded a prize for “participation in the development of a nuclear aerial bomb”, and that one of the people who received that prize was Valeriy Baranov, deputy chief designer and head of department at VNIIA.34 It is not at all clear, however, whether the last two bits of information refer to bombs meant for strategic bombers. As for tactical bombers, it is worth mentioning that a large photo of an Su-34 aircraft is the central feature of the aerospace section in the museum of PSZ products in Trekhgornyy (there are also small pictures of an Su-17, Mig-21 and MiG-23).35 Furthermore, it has been reported that the museum has an actual nuclear weapon for the Su-34 fighter-bomber on display. 36
There were also some interesting reports released during official events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Air Force. A collection of articles entitled “Russia’s Great Glory. 1912-2012” contained a piece by VNIIEF, which reads as follows: “In 1991 the Air Force began to equip the Tu-160 bombers with the Kh-59 tactical cruise missile. The missile had a nuclear payload designed by VNIIA, with a new-generation nuclear device developed by FGUP RFYatS-VNIIEF…”.37 The existence of a nuclear-armed version of the Kh-59 cruise missile was nothing new – but the article was the first source to say that the missile can be used with the Tu-160 strategic bomber. Another thing to mention is that VNIIEF is also the developer of nuclear ammunition for another two systems currently being deployed in the Russian armed forces – the S-400 (SA-20) SAM system, and the Iskander (SS-26) tactical missile.38 It was also reported that the “engineering designs” of the Iskander missile were “being worked with” at Elektropribor.39
There is no open-source information about any R&D in the non-strategic naval weapons segment in the 2000s. It has been reported, however, that back in the mid-1990s the Russian government awarded a prize “for the development of versatile nuclear ammunition for torpedo weapons”, and that in 1996 a state prize was awarded “for the development of a radically new type of universal nuclear ammunition with improved safety features for naval missiles and torpedoes”.
Uniquely among the other Russian nuclear centers, VNIIA has a special section on its website which contains a lot of information about the winners of various prizes and awards. This section has been the source of some rather interesting details. The following prizes won by VNIIA deserve a separate mention:
A 2000 State Prize for “development and launch of mass production of a new technology which improves the performance of nuclear devices”.
A 2003 prize awarded by the Russian cabinet for “a project to develop and launch mass production of a standardized system of neutron initiation for all classes of nuclear munitions”.
A 2004 prize awarded by the Russian cabinet for “A set of physical measurements during non-nuclear-explosive experiments at the Central Testing Range of the Russian Federation aimed at maintaining the nuclear arsenal while also ensuring compliance with limitations imposed by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”.
A 2008 prize awarded by the Russian cabinet for the “development of a specialized thermonuclear explosive device”
A 2009 prize awarded by the Russian cabinet “for creating a new type of nuclear ammunition” and for “developing and creating new instruments for non-nuclear explosive experiments” 40
Non-nuclear experiments and tests are an important part of the Russian nuclear weapons program. According to Academician Ilkayev, these experiments have been ongoing without any major interruptions at the Central Testing Range and on Novaya Zemlya. “This enables us to research specific issues related to the behavior of some nuclear weapons components, and to keep the testing range itself in an operational state,” Ilkayev said. 41
In addition to ground tests, the industry continues to flight-test its new products. Another important player in this segment is the Sedakov Measuring Systems Research Institute, a large Rosatom division. In 2002 the institute set up the Flight Tests Information Support Center (ISC), and then introduced the new Special Control Radio Telemetry System (SCRTC), which is already being used during flight tests. According to official ISC information, in 2002-2010 its specialists, working in tandem with the MoD’s testing range personnel, were involved in 47 flight tests which relied on the SCRTC. 42 This figure probably includes the testing of new products (such as the payload of the Bulava missile – see above) as well tests conducted on the existing weaponry to make sure that it remains in good working order.
This analysis of the Russian defense industry’s nuclear munitions programs in the 2000s is by no means complete because it relies only on open-source information. But it is safe to conclude that the Russian nuclear ammunition design, engineering a manufacturing capability remains intact. Russia’s nuclear weapons programs have been ongoing without interruptions since the break-up of the former Soviet Union. In recent years the government has actually been ramping up these programs, and for the foreseeable future the nuclear weapons industry will remain entirely capable of meeting the requirements of the Russian armed forces.
1. Structural divisions. Organizational structure of Rosatom // Rosatom website http://www.rosatom.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosatom/rosatomsite/aboutcorporation/structure/.
2. 21st Century Encyclopedia. Russian Weapons and Technologies. Nuclear Weapons Industry. — Moscow; Oruzhie i Tekhnologii publishing house, 2007; From NATO to atom // Strana Rosatom. The nuclear industry newspaper, No 2 (47), January 2012 http://www.novovoronezh.ru/mkportal/images/rosatom/strana_rosatom_01_12.pdf.
3. History of FGUP FNPTs PO Start M.V. Protsenko // PO Start website http://www.startatom.ru/ru/about/kratkaya_istoriya_predpriyatiya/.
4. Krinitskaya T. Gennadiy Svezhentsev: “We are not reducing the numbers” // Gorodskoy Kuryer (electronic version), August 3, 2012 http://courier.sarov.info/2012/08/03/16447/.
5. Gorokhova T. Everything is relative // Zarechinskaya yarmarka, No 5, February 3, 2011 http://zar-yarmarka.ru/2011/5/Vse_poznaetsya_v_sravnenii/print.
6. About the Institute // FGUP VNIIA Dukhov website http://www.vniia.ru/about/index.html.
7. The combine reports to Rosatom // FGUP Elektrokhimpribor combine. News section. March 28, 2012 http://www.ehp-atom.ru/news/81.html.
8. Gorokhova T. Op. cit.
9. Dmitriy Rogozin chairs meeting of the Rosatom Board // Vesti. Corporate newspaper of the Elektrokhimpribor combine, No 19 (114), October 2012 http://www.ehp-atom.ru/public/upload/file/vesti_19_114_oktyabr_2012.pdf.
10. Krinitskay T. Op. cit.
11. Kolpakova N. Real action behind every issue // Vestnik (Lesnoy town paper), February 2, 2012 http://vestnik-lesnoy.ru/za-kazhdym-voprosom-realnoe-dejjstvie/.
12. Morozov V. KB-2: experience and traditions // Nizhegorodskaya delovaya gazeta (special edition), April 2, 2011 http://www.kuriermedia.ru/data/objects/1949/06.pdf.
13. Perov M. Russian missile weapons.
14. Leskov S. Lesnoy zaryad // Vestnik atomproma, No 8, August 2010 http://www.rosatom.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosatom/rosatomsite/resources/1448450043606abd97a39f8cc4f0f76f/Vestnik_2010_august.pdf.
15. Tender announcement “Selection of suppliers of equipment for FGUP PSZ under the Topol-M program” // Tenders and auctions website http://www.alltenders.ru/tender_podrob_new.asp?KodTendera=209446.
16. Degtyar V. Priceless legacy of chief designer V.P. Makeyev // Konstruktor (special edition), October 25, 2009 http://makeyev.msk.ru/pub/msys/2009/Construktor10.09.pdf.
17. Naval Strategic Missile Systems. — Moscow: Voennyy Parad, GRTs Makeyev, 2011. —258 pages; ISBN 5-902975-25-0.
18. Veselovskiy A. Fifty years of guarding the motherland (Golden Jubilee of the Strategic Missile Troops) // Atomnaya strategiya XXI, No 06 (43), December 2009 http://www.proatom.ru/files/as43_01_17.pdf.
19. Director of the federal nuclear center in Snezhinsk becomes member of the Academy of Sciences // Rossiyskoye atomnoe soobshchestvo website, news section, December 26, 2011 http://www.atomic-energy.ru/news/2011/12/26/29817.
20. “RFYaTs-VNIIEF to maintain and expand international cooperation” — Radiy Ilkayev // NIA Nizhniy Novgorod, June 9, 2006 http://www.niann.ru/?id=299869.
21. Naval Strategic Missile Systems. — Moscow: Voennyy Parad, GRTs Makeyev, 2011. —258 pages; ISBN 5-902975-25-0.
22. Koshcheev A., Zotkin N., Averin V., Savchenko S. A perfect design bureau // Vesti. Elektrokhimpribor combine corporate newspaper, No 19 (114), October 2012 http://www.ehp-atom.ru/public/upload/file/vesti_19_114_oktyabr_2012.pdf.
23. Highlights of the year. NIIIS // Atom-PRESSA, No 51 (941), December 2010 http://www.profatom.ru/jornals/atompressa/Atompressa_51_10.pdf.
24. Single day of information // RFYaTs-VNITF website. News section. December 27, 2012 http://www.vniitf.ru/index.php/2010-08-20-07-38-20/2012-07-05-07-40-42/1060-2011-12-27-10-36-41.
25. Naval Strategic Missile Systems. — Moscow: Voennyy Parad, GRTs Makeyev, 2011. —258 pages; ISBN 5-902975-25-0.
26. Latest missile to augment the existing Yars and Topol arsenal in 2015 // RIA Novosti, December 16, 2011.
27. Safronov I. The Bulava surfaces in Plesetsk // Kommersant, May 24, 2012; New ICBM successfully tested in Astrakhan // RIA Novosti, October 24, 2012.
28. Russia develops unique nuclear warheads which are invulnerable to any missile defenses — chief designer Solomonov // Interfax-AVN, January 27, 2011.
29. Stilet strategic missile test a success — Russian MoD // Interfax-AVN, December 27, 2011.
30. Stukalin A. Russian Strategic Missile Troops: at a Crossroads // Moscow Defense Brief, ? 5, 2012.
31. Naval Strategic Missile Systems. — Moscow: Voennyy Parad, GRTs Makeyev, 2011. —258 pages; ISBN 5-902975-25-0.
32. Koshcheev A., Zotkin N., Averin V., Savchenko S. Op. cit.
33. Key dates in the history of the town of Snezhinsk and VNIITF http://img.rg.ru/pril/article/62/94/64/Vazhnejshie_daty_v_istorii_goroda_Snezhinska_i_RFIaC.doc.
34. VNIIA employees awarded by the Lenin Prize, State Prize and Government Prize // VNIIA website http://www.vniia.ru/about/lauryat.html.
35. Yakovlev I. PSZ Museum. Photo Gallery // 29.04.2010 http://www.flickriver.com/photos/ilyayakovlev/sets/72157624424183227/ or http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilyayakovlev/4814612098/.
36. Chvanov M. A closed city with an open heart // Argamak. Tatarstan, No 1 (16), 2011. http://www.srpkzn.ru/argamak-6.pdf.
37. Russia’s High Glory. 100th Anniversary of the Russian Air Force. 1912-2012 (special edition of the journal) // Nizhegorodskaya Delovaya Gazeta, 2012 http://www.kuriermedia.ru/data/objects/2158/V_slava_Rossii.pdf.
38. Veselovskiy A. 65 years of glorious history — foundation of stability and growth // Atomnaya Strategiya XXI, No 59, October 2011 http://www.proatom.ru/files/as59.pdf.
39.  Koshcheev A., Zotkin N., Averin V., Savchenko S. Op. cit.  VNIIA employees awarded by the Lenin Prize, State Prize and Government Prize // VNIIA website.
41. Emelyanov A. Nuclear umbrella // Rossiyskaya gazeta, June 9, 2006 http://www.rg.ru/2006/06/09/ilkaev.html.
42. Highlights of the year. NIIIS // Atom-PRESSA, No 51 (941), December 2010 http://www.profatom.ru/jornals/atompressa/Atompressa_51_10.pdf .