Russia and the US are racing to modernize their nuclear forces

The Kremlin has embarked on a process to update all of its nuclear warheads and launch systems.

The modernization effort will affect all of Russia’s strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons — a total of 4,500 warheads, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports. The modernization process includes the replacement of Soviet-era intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with new rocket launch systems.

Also included in the modernization push is the development and launch of an upgraded Borei-class ballistic missile submarine. Within the coming decade, Moscow plans to replace two older ballistic missile submarine classes with the newly updated Borei. The new variant will feature improved electronics, among other modifications.

Russia is not alone in wanting to upgrade its nuclear forces. The US also wants to modernize its nuclear weapons and launch platforms with the express aim of making its arsenal more efficient without having to acquire new warheads.

“[W]hile we haven’t deployed major new strategic systems in some time, we’ve been modernising the ones we’ve got more or less continuously — new rocket motors and guidance systems for the Minuteman missiles, lots of rebuilt parts for the B-52s, etc., etc.,” Matthew Bunn, a nuclear proliferation expert at Harvard, told Politifact.

AP Photo / Robert BurnsIn this Jan. 9, 2014 file photo, a mockup of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile used for training by missile maintenance crews is seen at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. A former commander of U.S. nuclear forces is leading a call for taking U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles off high alert, arguing that a longer fuse could keep a possible cyberattack from starting a nuclear war and would mean less risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

In total, the US modernization plans are estimated to cost a total of $US348 billion over the coming decade,accordingto estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

However, the total bill could rise to as much as $US1 trillion over the following three decades thanks to upkeep costs, a report from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimates.

This process of modernization is triggering what John Mecklin, the editor of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, calls a “different kind of arms race.”

“It’s one in which technological advance is the race,” Mecklin told the BBC. “Nuclear countries are trying to make sure that the other nuclear countries don’t get some sort of technological edge.”

This modernization drive has no resulted in matching efforts within the US and Russia. Just as Russia is modernising its arsenal of ICBMs and ballistic missile submarines, the US is also replacing its nuclear triad with new missiles, submarines, and a next-generation bomber.

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