Russia’s non-strategic nuclear force
March 1, 2022 - President Vladimir Putin triggered alarm around the world by putting Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert amid an invasion of Ukraine facing fierce resistance.
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Russia has a total nuclear warhead inventory of 5,977 -- the largest atomic arsenal in the world. The U.S. has 5,428 warheads while China has 350, France has 290 and Britain has 225.
Writing for the Bulletin, Hans M Kristensen and Matt Korda state: “Of these, about 1,588 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while an approximate additional 977 strategic warheads, along with 1,912 non-strategic warheads, are held in reserve.”
Putin’s order which applies to Russia’s strategic, non-strategic -- or smaller tactical weapons -- and new hypersonic nuclear missiles, does not mean Putin is ordering preparations for a nuclear strike.
Strategic nuclear weapons include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which can hit targets globally, such as the U.S. and Europe. Tactical nuclear weapons is a term used for those deployed on a battlefield. Russia’s tactical weapons have yields ranging from 10 kilotons to 500 kilotons.
The Hiroshima bomb yielded 13 kilotons (13,000 tons of TNT). The blast and resultant firestorm killed between 70,000–80,000 people -- 30 per cent of Hiroshima’s population of the city at the time.
According to Russia’s nuclear doctrine, the Kremlin “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons,” including tactical weapons deployed in a conventional conflict to make an enemy back down.