Strategic Weapons: June 16, 2005


: Who has the biggest nuclear arsenal?  There are nine countries that have nuclear arsenals: The United States, Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. The established powers, of which a great deal is known for certain are the United States, Russia, China, France, and the UK.

The American nuclear arsenal is declining in quantity. The backbone of this will be 500 LGM-30 Minuteman ICBMs, each with a single warhead. This is the W-87, which has a yield of 300 kilotons replacing the 170-kiloton W62. The United States also relies on the Trident D-5 missile, and will have about 540 of those. Each carries up to eight W88 warheads, each with a 475-kiloton warhead. This will place the bulk of the American nuclear arsenal in the hulls of fourteen Ohio-class SSBNs. The United States also relies on the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile, which carries a single W-80 warhead with a 200-kiloton yield. The United States also has a series of B61 and B83 gravity bombs, deployable from a variety of bombers (B-52, B-1B, and B-2A) and fighters (F/A-18, F-16, and F-15E).

Russia also has a nuclear arsenal of impressive size, but also on a downward trend in terms of quantity. As of April 1, 2005. The major missiles in Russias arsenal at present are 86 SS-18 Satan (coming in two versions one with a single 20 megaton warhead, the other with ten warheads with a 550-kiloton to 1 megaton yield), 10 SS-17s (each with four 550-750 kiloton warheads, these missiles are being retired), and 40 SS-25 (with a single 550-kiloton warhead). Russia is going to cut back to 40 SS-18, 50 SS-17, 144 SS-25, and 79 SS-27 Topol-M, which carries one warhead. Russia has also deployed 270 SS-25s in mobile launchers. Russia also has a force of fifteen SSBNs (six Delta III, six Delta IV, and three Typhoon). The Delta III carries 16 SS-N-18 missiles, which have one of three payload options: The Mod 1 carries a single 450-kilton warhead, the Mod 2 carries three 200-kiloton warheads, and the Mod 3 carries seven 100-kiloton warheads. The Delta IV carries sixteen SS-N-23s, each with four warheads (although it can carry up to ten). The Typhoon carries 20 SS-N-20 missiles, each with ten 100-kiloton warheads. The Borey-classs SSBN has been delayed due to difficulty with developing new SLBMs for them. Russia also uses cruise missiles and gravity bombs from their Tu-95 Bears, Tu-22M3 Backfires, and Tu-160 Blackjacks.

Chinas nuclear arsenal is still mostly concentrated on short-range systems. At present, they have 575 CSS-6/7/8 missiles, with ranges of 180 to 600 kilometers, and a single warhead (usually 350 kilotons). They also have some longer-rage missiles (48 DF-21, 40 DF-3A, 12 DF-4). The DF-21 has a range of 1800 kilometers and a 300 kiloton warhead. The DF-3A can reach 3000 kilometers and has two payload options: The first is a single warhead of up to three megatons, the second is three warheads each with a yield of up to 100 kilotons. The DF-4 has a range of 4,750 to 7,000 kilometers with a single three megaton warhead. China also has 24 DF-5 missiles, with a 13,000 kilometer range and a single warhead, either a 2 megaton warhead or a 5-megaton warhead. Chinas sole Xia-class SSBN carries 12 JL-1 SLBMs, which have a range of 1700 kilometers and a single one-megaton warhead.

The United Kingdoms main strategic deterrent is in four Vanguard-class SSBNs, each carrying sixteen Trident D-5 missiles. This gives the United Kingdom a nuclear force that is survivable, and capable of delivering a very heavy punch, although its Tridents have only four warheads and a maximum yield of 100 kilotons. It still is enough to make anyone think twice about throwing a punch at the United Kingdom.

France has a larger, more balanced force than the UK. Consisting of four SSBNs, three Le Triomphant class and the LInflexible, each of these carries sixteen M4/M45 missiles, which have a range of 5300 kilometers, and carrying six MIRVs packing a 150-kiloton nuclear warhead. France also has a force of 70 Mirage 2000N bombers carrying the ASMP cruise missile, with a range of 300 kilometers and packing a 300-kiloton warhead. French Super Etendards flying from the Charles de Gaulle can also carry this missile.

The American nuclear arsenal is probably the most versatile, but Russia is also close. The established powers are not the only ones with nuclear weapons. North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel all have small numbers of nuclear weapons, and are working to establish themselves as nuclear powers. Harold C. Hutchison (


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