From the first moment of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian administration followed a shocking and intense nuclear rhetoric in threatening NATO, evident both in the statements of Putin himself and any of his men, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov(1) who said in a television interview that the nuclear danger is serious and real, and we should not underestimate it, and that the Third World War will be nuclear and destructive.
These nuclear threats have been effective to some extent, for example, NATO has already backed away from imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which foreshadowed direct combat with the Russians, but it has not prevented the alliance from supplying the Ukrainians with many aircraft, heavy and light weapons, and even training Ukrainian forces in the countries of the Alliance.Even US President Joe Biden, having recently provided a batch of miscellaneous weapons worth 8 800 million to the Ukrainian military2 he had asked Congress several weeks ago to approve assistance(3) worth 3 33 billion to Ukraine, all of which represent escalatory measures against the Russians.
This is not the first time Putin has threatened nuclear, the same thing happened in 2014 during the Russian invasion of Crimea, where Russian leaders openly talked about putting nuclear weapons on alert, and in 2015 Russia threatened Danish warships with nuclear weapons if Denmark joined NATO's missile defense system(4).
But during all this exchange of escalation, some forget that we are only talking about a specific type of nuclear weapon that might now be very low-risk, namely the strategic nuclear weapon, which is the nuclear triad of any country, consisting of intercontinental ballistic missiles (l), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (l), and heavy bombers equipped with nuclear weapons, all of which can hit targets far from the state, thousands of kilometers away, causing significant damage.
Nuclear on the battlefield
Besides strategic nuclear, there is another type of weapon, called “tactical nuclear weapon”(5) or “non-strategic nuclear weapon”, which is a weapon that can be used on the battlefield, tactical nuclear bombs are not used to destroy large cities or end the war, but are short-range weapons used at narrow ranges, often with friendly forces in close proximity and possibly in a disputed friendly On the enemy.
At that point, let's learn a little bit about how the magnitude of the yield or explosive energy coming out of a nuclear weapon is estimated, expressed in the corresponding amount of “Tri-Nitro-toluene” (TNT) that will generate the same amount of energy when it explodes.
Thus, a nuclear weapon that gives 1 kiloton is a weapon that produces the same amount of energy in an explosion of 1 kiloton (1000 tons) of this substance. Similarly, a weapon with a power of 1 megatonnes would have an energy equivalent to detonating a million tons of Tri-Nitro-toluene. The explosion of Beirut port 2020, which was called the term “perochima ” as an analogy to the city of Hiroshima but was not Nuclear, was estimated at a force equal to about 1 kiloton, while the famous grenade in wars, which appears in many films, contains only 50-60 grams of Tri-Nitro-toluene!
This means that the Tsar Bomb, for example (r ER), or Ivan The Great bomb as the Russians call it with a power of 50 megatons, which exploded on the morning of October 30 in 1961 in the Russian region of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Circle and is by far the most powerful nuclear bomb in history, gave an energy equal to the detonation of 50 million tons of Tri-Nitro-toluene, compared to the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, about 15-20 kilotons, respectively, the first killed about 146 thousand people.
Some consider the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs to be tactical nuclear weapons, and there is no clear dividing line(6) between the strategic and tactical bomb types: the power output of the tactical weapon starts from 10 tons to 100 kilotons (while the largest Russian strategic warhead is currently believed to be 800 kilotons).
A long history of rivalry
On November 5, 1991, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev announced several steps to reduce Russia's tactical nuclear forces, starting with the removal of nuclear warheads from missiles, artillery and tactical mines, as well as the unloading of tactical nuclear weapons from ships, general-purpose submarines and naval aircraft and placing them in central storage areas. The same is true for operational anti-aircraft weapons, but only on one condition: “if the United States does the same”(7).
The above came in response to an initiative announced by President George H. W. Bush in September of the same year, and in January 1992 President Boris Yeltsin reaffirmed and even expanded Gorbachev's initiative, and subsequent moves included repeated reductions in the number of tactical nuclear warheads by both the United States and Russia.
But in the course of all this, the Russians have worked to develop their tactical nuclear arsenal, and in December 2020 Putin said: “it is absolutely unacceptable to stand still. The pace of change in all critical areas of the Armed Forces is unusually fast today. ”It's even faster than Formula 1, it's even faster than the sound, if you stop for a second you start falling behind right away.
Efforts by the Russians to develop their own tactical nuclear weapon have been less clear and comprehensive than the strategic nuclear modernization plan, but it is the same policy, namely phasing out Soviet-era weapons and replacing them with newer but fewer weapons. Russia is updating an active stockpile of up to 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads(8), ranging from air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, launched from medium-range bombers, tactical bombers and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles, aircraft and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines.
Land – sea – air
A closer look, we will find that the largest proportion of the Russian tactical nuclear arsenal (about 950 warheads) is allocated to the Navy, and the main naval modernization program of the Russian army is mainly focused on the attack submarines of the type “Yasen-M” (/ / -.), and Yasen(9) is the latest Russian multi-purpose attack submarine equipped with a Vertical Launch System of 32 launch cells, which is nuclear-powered and can carry tactical nuclear weapons on board, with a variety of capabilities. “Yasen-M” has already begun to replace Soviet-era Russian attack submarines. An improved version of the submarine itself called “Kazan” (Kazan) also recently joined the northern Russian fleet.
It is believed that the “Yasen-M”, along with all the modernized submarines and ships, equipped with a nuclear version of the missile(10) “cruise caliber” (Ka L) launched from the sea to hit land targets, with a varied and flexible range starting from a short range of several hundred to a medium range of several thousand kilometers, can also launch a cruise missile type “3m-55” (3 3-55) anti-ship and land attack, along with “Vitter” (r l) nuclear anti-submarine missiles, as well as nuclear torpedoes.
It does not stop at the development of Yasen only, because its development was a bit slow, prompting the Russian Navy to simultaneous development of other tactical nuclear platforms such as submarines “sierra”,”oscar-2″ and”Akola”, along with speculation that Russia is considering building a new type of cruise missile submarines.
In addition, the Russian Air Force is the second largest user of tactical nuclear weapons (about 500 warheads), and 125 new Su-34s have already been delivered to the Russian air force since 2014 after more than 25 years of lengthy development, with plans to fully replace the Su-24s in a major modernization move.
From the first moment it was expected to play(11) “Su-34” central role in Russian military operations in the European theater, whether in the case of the conflict with Ukraine in particular, or with NATO in general, where its high endurance puts all targets in Europe within the scope of its work, and the fighter is likely to carry out the vast majority of initial strikes on high-value targets, whether in the case of tactical or conventional nuclear strike, and the aircraft has high capabilities in air combat inherited from the design of its predecessor “Su-27”, along with high-quality sensors make this particular aircraft a masterpiece.
We have not yet talked about new developments in the Russian air arsenal, such as the Sukhoi (u 57), which the US Department of Defense says has a nuclear capability, and is expected to compete with aircraft such as the “F-35” (. 35), and will also be equipped with hypersonic missiles with characteristics similar to the characteristics of “Kingal” (l), which the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it used to destroy an underground weapons store in western Ukraine, and that this model of missiles can not be monitored by all air defense systems.
The Kingal 12 missile is one of Russia'S recent achievements: it is versatile, developed to target critical European infrastructure (such as airports, warehouses and command centers) and to counter U.S. defense missiles such as the “THAAD 6” (THAAD).6), and also poses a threat to US aircraft carriers and NATO. The flight path from the aircraft to the target is irregular, as well as running at speeds of up to 4900 km/h, and may reach speeds of 12350 km/h. With such speed, perhaps no one will be able to catch up with him.
The above was a set of examples in a case of a total modernization of 13 Russian tactical nuclear warhead-carrying tools in all ranges from land, sea and air, whether offensive or even defensive, all aimed at balancing the superior conventional forces of NATO and the United States, as well as the desire to create a counterbalance to the Chinese conventional forces, very large and highly capable, in the Far East.
But in the end, one important observation remains, that a tactical nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, it is as obvious as you can notice, but on the ground it is not.this distinction between Strategic and tactical arose because of the arms control agreements between the United States and Russia that primarily concerned with major risks such as intercontinental ballistic missiles and the instruments that carry them, being the main source of danger.
However, the use of tactical nuclear weapons against opponents armed with the same type of instrument may be highly risky, as they are less risky and therefore easier to use, and because of this they are a ladder between conventional and Nuclear, more like a transition rather than a big leap using an intercontinental missile.the deployment of small, low-power tactical nuclear warheads may be a serious encouragement for the next nuclear war.
Weapons with a power of 10-15 kilotons may be impressive and large and therefore frightening as a preemptive strike for an army, but there are warheads that can release energy with a power of only 10-100 tons, and in fact, the biggest problems of tactical nuclear weapons-besides the above – is that it is very diverse in range and power, take for example the American warhead “B61” (B 61), which is now the 14th smallest nuclear weapon in the US arsenal with a power starting from 300 force willingly in times of crisis, at greater rates than using warheads whose explosive energy output reaches varying kilotons.
In addition, there is a great development in the accuracy and range of missiles that can carry tactical nuclear warheads, for example the Russian missile 15 “OTR-21 Toshka” (r-21 Tochka) is capable of carrying and delivering a nuclear war of up to 100 kilotons for a distance of 150-185 km only, this missile began to be used in 1981, and until now it is still one of the tactical tools of the Russian army, which was used in the Syrian war, the recent Yemen war and the war of the Karabakh Heights 2020, and is currently used in the Russian-Ukrainian war.
With the presence of Russian missiles such as “Iskander-M”16 (r H -r), which can transport a small nuclear payload to a distance of 400-500 kilometers and replace Toshka in some areas of the Russian army now, and draws the attention of researchers in this range as one of the most important Russian tactical nuclear tools, with “Caliber”, which we talked about a few thousand kilometers and carries a variety of payloads up to several thousand kilometers, we are in front of a diverse arsenal in its uses.
And it does not stop at this border, the American missile “Littlejohn” (r H-3 NH l) for example was able to launch a 10-kiloton warhead for only 19 km, and the French missile “Pluton” (u NH.) was able in the Seventies to launch a 15-kiloton nuclear warhead for 120 km.
It has even developed small tactical nuclear weapons that can be carried by only two people, such as the atomic ammunition for destruction 17 (SADM), a portable nuclear weapon produced by the US military in the Sixties and not used, and the weapons system “Davy Crockett”18 (r HR), a small cannon that can fire a nuclear missile with a force of 10-230 tons deployed by the United States during the Cold War. In wartime, this type of explosive can easily be used to achieve great effectiveness in “choke points” such as tunnels, narrow mountain passes, and bridges.
Doctrine of escalation
For a deeper understanding of that point, consider a six-page document published by the Russian government on June 2, 2020 setting out its perspective on nuclear deterrence, entitled “basic principles of the state policy of the Russian Federation on nuclear deterrence”19, in which the Russian threat of nuclear escalation or the first actual use of nuclear weapons is a behavior that would lead to a “de-escalation” of the conflict on terms favorable to Russia.
The policy of “escalation for the purpose of de-escalation”20 (l C -l CL) simply means that the Russians may jump to the Nuclear Option in the event of a non-nuclear attack by the adversary and the existence of the state itself in danger, this kind of nuclear escalation calms the other party and reduces the intensity of its statements or next steps, this was evident in the nuclear threats that were levelled at NATO by the Russian government at the beginning of the Ukrainian war.
When the Soviet Union retreated politically and militarily during the Cold War, and then with its collapse, the only guarantor for the Russians was the nuclear weapon, such that it served as a major deterrent, and even with the reduction in the number of nuclear warheads-strategic or tactical – the Russians were well aware of the need to have enough to prevent a threat to their existence, and now they feel that their very existence is threatened during the war with Ukraine.
At that point, tactical nuclear weapons stand out as a tool for gradual escalation by both the Russians (and NATO), but the inevitable end of a war in which tactical nuclear weapons are used is a disaster by all accounts, as one step up this ladder raises the very possibility that it will continue to climb, and at some point you may not be able to turn back, even if you wish. We have not yet talked about what will be provoked by such moves from the desire of other states, which did not participate in the war, to develop their nuclear capabilities, and the number of nuclear warheads in the world rises again in an arms race that only God knows how far it will reach, having reached a minimum currently equal to 15 thousand warheads after the end of the Cold War.
The first and last use of nuclear weapons, of all kinds, whether strategic or tactical, occurred in Japan in 1945, whenever a new conflict arises, we wait for that fast to be broken, and the world is terrified of a day when the second use occurs, but the first time only the Americans used nuclear warheads, but now there is a wide chorus of possibilities, the dreams of which passed unimaginably!