Outlook: A Modernizing Force

The Russian military has built on the military doctrine, structure, and capabilities of the former Soviet Union, and although still dependent on many of the older Soviet platforms, the Russians have modernized their military strategy, doctrine, and tactics to include use of asymmetric weapons hke cyber and indirect action such as was observed in Ukraine.

One of Russia’s biggest hurdles since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union has been its need to rely heavily on its nuclear forces to deter aggression, resulting in its stated willingness for first-use of nuclear weapons.359,360 Russia has been building its conventional force capability along with modernizing its nuclear forces to create a more balanced military. Moscow has stressed development of conventional precision-strike weapons, a critical gap in its inventory, and recently has tested them in combat in Syria, providing it with an advanced non-nuclear capability to impact the battlefield.

In 2009, after almost two decades of deterioration and neglect of the Russian military, Moscow began developing a more modem military force capable of power project ion outside Russia’s borders. The New Look reforms instituted structural and organizational reforms and the State Armaments Program emphasized development of modernized platforms and weapons’ systems. In 2013, readiness became an additional area of emphasis with institution of no-notice “snap” exercises and accompanying mobilization and deployments. Moscow’s long-term goal is building a military prepared to conduct the range of conflicts from local war through regional conflict to a strategic conflict that could result in massive nuclear exchange.

Recently, Russian forces have been involved in conflict in Ukraine and conducted an expeditionary deployment to Syria, providing experience in combat operations, and employing new tactics and advanced weapons systems. This more flexible and modem Russian force did not spring up overnight but is a result of years of concentrated effort to develop and field an improved military force

Russia’s desire to be a leader in a multipolar world and recapture the “great power” status it had in Tsarist times and the latter days of the Soviet Union requires a force capable of deterring aggression, fighting the range of conflicts from local crises to nuclear war, projecting power and employing force if necessary to intervene in conflicts across the globe. Despite an economic slowdown that will affect the Russian military’s timeline for budding all of its planned capabilities, Russia is rapidly fielding a modern force that can challenge adversaries and support its “great power” aspirations.

Russia’s commitment to budding its military is demonstrated by its retention of the draft. All Russian males are required to register for the draft at 17 years of age and all men between the ages of 18 and 27 are obligated by law to perform one year of military service.

Appendix A: Russian Strategic Rocket Forces

The Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) (Russian name: Raketniye Voyska Strategicheskovo Naznacheniya [RVSN]), is one of the most potent missile forces in the world.361,362 The SRF was established as a separate military service in December 1959 to operate the first nuclear-armed intercontinental-range land-based ballistic missile (SS-6), as the third element of Russia's growing strategic nuclear force deterrent triad.363,364

The Russian SRF headquarters is in Moscow. The SRF's three missile armies—the 27th, 31st, and 33rd—have a total of 12 subordinate missile divisions. Eight of the divisions operate road-mobile ICBMs, with the other four armed with silo-based missiles.365,366 The Russian SRF have approximately 60,000 personnel.367

In 2016, the SRF had deployed 299 operational missiles, with half that number equipped with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) payloads. The SRF arsenal includes three older ICBM types—46 SS-18s and 30 SS-19s in silos, and 72 road-mobile SS-25s—and two newer ICBM types—60 silo-based and 18 road-mobile SS-27 Mod Is, and 73 of the most modernized SS-27 Mod 2s.371,372

Russia Strategic Rocket Forces

Locations of Strategic Rocket Forces missile divisions.368,369,370

The development of new ballistic missile systems is a high priority for Russia. The Russian military has outlined that the SRF should be completely re-armed with modem (post-Soviet) missile systems by 2022.373 Russia has stated that it will soon begin testing a developmental, heavy, liquid-propellant ICBM called the Sarmat to replace the aging SS-18. Russia’s goal is to begin Sarmat deployment in the 2018-2020 timeframe.

Russia has announced a new missile called the Rubezh (Border) or RS-26, which is smaller than the SS-27 Mod 2 ICBM and will be deployed in 2017.374 According to the SRF commander, the RS-26 is envisioned as a mobile system and has been referred to by Russian Vice-Premier Rogozin as a “missile defense killer.”375 Russian industry officials also claim development of the Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM is continuing. A decision on full development, production, and deployment will occur in the coming months.376

The currently deployed SS-18, which Russia plans to replace with the Sarmat, is a silo-based, 10-MIRV heavy ICBM first deployed in 1988; it needs to be replaced by 2018-2020, when the SS-18s' 27- to 30-year service lives expire.377 The SS-19 is a silo-based, six-MIRV ICBM that entered service in 1980, which the SRF will replace with silo-based SS-27 Mod 2 by 2019, as the SS-19s retire.378

The SS-25 solid-propellant, single-warhead, road-mobile ICBM was first deployed in 1985 and will retire by 2019-2021, to be replaced by regiments of new production SS-27 Mod 2s, and possibly the two-stage, road-mobile RS-26 Rubezh.379,380

In addition, Russian leadership claims a new class of hypersonic glide vehicle is being developed to allow Russian strategic missiles to penetrate missile defense systems. Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic (typically greater than Mach 5) speed and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile. The combination of high speed, maneuverability, and relatively low altitude makes them challenging targets for missile defense systems.381

Russia’s overall number of strategic systems is constrained by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which entered into force on 5 February 2011. This treaty limits the United States and Russia to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads each (including warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs, and counting each heavy bomber as one warhead) 7 years after entry into force.382

Russia retains about 1,200 nuclear warheads for ICBMs. Most of these missiles are maintained on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order. Although the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints, Russia intends to retain the largest ICBM force outside the United States.383

Despite Russia’s modernization efforts, the size of the SRF may drop below 300 deployed ICBMs by the early 2020s, but most of those missiles will be equipped with multiple warheads. The composition of the force is changing significantly to meet the deployed strategic warhead total limit of 1,550. Notably, prior to 2010, no SRF road-mobile ICBMs carried MIRVs; by the early 2020s, all will do so.384

Russian ICBM Systems.385


Number of Stages



Deployment Mode

Max Range km

SS-18 MOD 5

2 + PBV





SS-19 MOD 3

2 +PBV






3 + PBV





SS-27 MOD 1

3 + PBV





SS-27 MOD 2

3 + PBV





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