Russia and Ukraine: Intelligence information on Moscow’s use of cruise missiles without nuclear warheads in Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine: Intelligence information on Moscow’s use of cruise missiles without nuclear warheads in Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine: Intelligence information on Moscow’s use of cruise missiles without nuclear warheads in Ukraine

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A Russian 9M729 surface-to-surface cruise missile in a 2019 photo

British military intelligence has said Russia is likely to remove nuclear warheads from old cruise missiles and replace them with heavy metal warheads to bombard Ukrainian territory.

She added that the move highlights the degree of depletion of Moscow’s stockpile of long-range weapons.

The UK MoD said: “Regardless of Russia’s intention, this improvisation underscores the degree of depletion of Russia’s long-range missile stockpiles.”

She noted that it is now certain that Russia hopes the missiles will perform the task of deceiving Ukrainian air defenses.

This assessment is based on photographs taken inside Ukraine of the wreckage of a Russian AS-15 Kent air-launched cruise missile, which was developed in the 1980s solely to carry nuclear warheads.

The UK MoD said in the Daily Intelligence Update, which it tweeted on Twitter, that this system would cause damage from the missile’s kinetic energy and unused fuel. However, it is unlikely to produce a reliable effect on the intended goals.

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Iskander is a tactical ballistic missile with nuclear capability (photo from 2015)

cruise missile attacks

Russia has launched a wave of cruise missile and drone attacks on Ukraine in recent weeks, killing dozens of civilians and causing power outages across the country.

Douglas Barry, a military expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in an analysis published last October that “Russia’s arsenal of land-based cruise missiles may have some problems. It’s not exhausted yet, but it’s likely to shrink.”

Russia used numerous precision-guided missiles to hit ground targets across Ukraine early in the war, but attacks eased over the summer as some Western defense officials said Russian stockpiles had been severely reduced.

Russia’s missile stockpile is a closely guarded secret and it is unknown what material Western intelligence agencies base their assessments on, but there is some evidence of photos taken of recent Russian strikes on targets in Ukraine.

Russian nuclear warheads

The Federation of American Scientists (a non-governmental organization) estimates that the Russians possess 5,977 nuclear warheads – responsible for triggering a nuclear explosion – and that number includes about 1,500 decommissioned warheads.

The remaining 4,500 warheads are mostly considered strategic weapons, be they ballistic missiles or other long-range missiles. And these are the weapons that usually accompany nuclear war.

The rest are smaller, less destructive, and used for short-range targets on the battlefield or at sea.

But that doesn’t mean Russia now has thousands of long-range nuclear warheads operational.

Experts estimate that around 1,500 nuclear warheads are currently “deployed”, i.e. placed on bases and platforms for launching missiles and bombers or on submarines on the high seas.


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