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Strategic Missile Troops
[ex-Raketnyye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya]

The Strategic Rocket Forces were the main Soviet force used for attacking an enemy's offensive nuclear weapons, its military facilities, and its industrial infrastructure. They operated all Soviet ground-based intercontinental, intermediate-range, and medium-range nuclear missiles with ranges over 1,000 kilometers. The Strategic Rocket Forces also conducted all Soviet space vehicle and missile launches. A the end of the Cold War the Strategic Rocket Forces, the newest Soviet armed service, were the preeminent armed service, based on the continued importance of their mission. Their prestige had diminished somewhat, however, because of an increasing emphasis on conventional forces.

Russia's armed forces underwent major organizational changes from July 1997. A new strategic command was formed -- the Strategic Missile Troops -- comprised of the Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN), the Military Space Forces, and the Space Missile Defense Forces, which previously were part of the Troops of Air Defense. In 1998 Defence Minister Sergeyev advanced a project for further reorganization of the nuclear forces, under which the Strategic Missile Troops would have been transformed into the Unified Command of the Strategic Deterrent Forces, with control over the naval and air components of the nuclear ‘triad’. However, this plan failed to gain support, and was not implemented.

On 11 August 2000 the Security Council met to discuss the future of the Armed Forces for the period through 2016. Before the meeting of the Security Council, the Defense Ministry and the General Staff had different approaches to proposals regarding the reform of the Armed Forces.

General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin suggested that the Strategic Missile Forces should be dissolved or merged with either the Air Force or with some other branch of the military. Kvashnin advocated a substantial reduction in size of nuclear forces in order to free resources for conventional capabilities, of the sort that might be usable in conflicts such as Chechnya. Kvashnin proposed that Russia's land-based intercontinental nuclear missile force be cut from 756 missiles to 148 by the year 2016.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was averse to the reduction of the Strategic Missile Forces, which he had previously commanded. After Putin, Sergeev and Kvashnin met in late July 2000 a compromise was reached. According to the resolutions approved by the Security Council, the Strategic Missile Forces would remain an independent branch of the Armed Forces at least until 2006. The Regiments and divisions of the Strategic Missile Forces will be enlarged, though their overall number will be reduced. The ratio of financing between the strategic nuclear forces and general purpose forces will be approximately 1 to 3.

As a result of decisions by the National Security Council in August 2000, it is expected that the Strategic Missile Force will see a reduction of up to 10 missile divisions by 2006. It is intended that the space missile defence troops and the space military forces will removed from the Strategic Missile Force in 2001 and put under the direct control of the General Staff. The Strategic Missile Force is expected to be transformed into an independent arm of service in 2002, and possibly by in 2006 to be included under the Russian Air Force.


In 1989 the Strategic Rocket Forces had over 1,400 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 300 launch control centers, and twenty-eight missile bases. The Soviet Union had six types of operational ICBMs; about 50 percent were heavy SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs, which carried 80 percent of the country's land-based ICBM warheads. In 1989 the Soviet Union was also producing new mobile, and hence survivable, ICBMS. A reported 100 road-mobile SS-25 missiles were operational, and the rail-mobile SS-24 was being deployed.

The Strategic Rocket Forces also operated SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). Two-thirds of the road-mobile Soviet SS-20 force was based in the western Soviet Union and was aimed at Western Europe. One-third was located east of the Ural Mountains and was targeted primarily against China. Older SS-4 missiles were deployed at fixed sites in the western Soviet Union. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), signed in December 1987, called for the elimination of all 553 Soviet SS-20 and SS-4 missiles within three years. As of mid-1989, over 50 percent of SS-20 and SS-4 missiles had been eliminated.

Russia continued the reduction in strategic missile inventory required under START I, although at a pace slower than the United States would like. By mid-1996 all nuclear warheads on former Soviet SRF missiles in Kazakstan and Ukraine had been returned to Russia or destroyed, and all missiles left Belarus by the end of 1996.

The Russian SRF missile inventory not only is shrinking in response to treaty requirements but also is changing in character. The new Topol-M is the only system suited to Russian strategic requirements and acceptable under the requirements of START I, so rocket production efforts will concentrate on this model for the foreseeable future. The SS-25 Topol was fielded in SRF regiments comprising three battalions totaling nine launch vehicles. In 1996 forty such regiments were operational. Several older operational ICBM systems also remained in the field. These included an SS-17 regiment of ten silos, six SS-18 silo fields totaling 222 missiles with multiple warheads, four SS-19 silo fields totaling 250 missiles with multiple warheads, and ninety-two SS-24 missiles of which thirty-six are mounted on trains. All except the SS-24 were being phased out in favor of the SS-25 Topol.


The special-purpose brigade of the RVGK [Supreme High Command Reserve] was formed in 1946, and on 18 October 1947 the brigade conducted the first launch of the A-4 ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar Range. Later the brigade was given the combined-arms designation of 22nd RVGK special-purpose brigade, then 72nd RVGK Engineer Brigade, and in 1960 the 24th Guards Division of the RVSN was formed on its basis.

In 1989 the 300,000 Soviet soldiers in the Strategic Rocket Forces were organized into six rocket armies comprised of three to five divisions, which contained regiments of ten missile launchers each. Each missile regiment had 400 soldiers in security, transportation, and maintenance units above ground. Officers manned launch stations and command posts underground.

In 1996 the SRF had about 100,000 troops, of which about half were conscripts. The SRF had the highest proportion of well-educated officers among the armed services. The numerical strength of its personnel is only 10 percent of the armed forces' total. As of 1997 the average troop strength was at 85.3 percent of the table of organization, and officers of all ranks were doing alert duty more frequently -- 130 24-hour periods a year. While 99 percent of RVSN officers have a degree in engineering, and over 25 percent of the personnel are contract sergeants and soldiers. However, among the conscript contingent more than a half of the total do not even have a secondary [high school] education.

As of mid-1997 two-thirds of the strategic forces' nuclear delivery systems were in constant combat readiness, and the readiness of the missile complexes to launch is a few tens of seconds. The organizational structure of the RSVN included four missile armies, which contain 19 divisions, 756 launchers, and 5,535 nuclear devices at stationary, railroad, and mobile missile launch complexes.

The control of the missile troops is effected directly by the Supreme Commander in Chief through the central command headquarters of the General Staff and the main headquarters of the RVSN, using a multi-level extended network of command posts operating in alert-duty mode. In the alert-duty forces about 12,000 missile personnel perform a three-fold mission: reacting to failures in the missile systems and systems of security communications, and correcting them in the minimum possible time; maintaining readiness to carry out the military mission assigned them; and in the event the armed forces are placed on the highest level of military readiness, to provide for the execution of their assigned missions.

A system to ensure nuclear security is based on a three-level system of protection of the launch installations. The installations are directly guarded by officers and warrant officers. The second line of protection is covered by armored hardware and structures. The third outer line is formed by minefields and security posts.

At the wing level there is a section called the 6th Directorate, consisting of three or four officers, and their sole function is to make sure they know where every nuclear weapon in that wing is. At the Rocket Army level there is a similar kind of organization. And at the Headquarters, Strategic Rocket Forces, there is a 6th Directorate that coordinates with the Ministry of Defense 12th Directorate, whose sole function is this accountability issue.

Missile Army

27th Rocket Army

43d Missile Army, Ukraine

UI Missile Army, Kirov

UI Missile Army, Khabarovsk

UI Missile Army, Vladimir

Sources and Methods

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