The next President of the United States will take office on January 20, 2021. The current Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty expires 16 days later, on February 5. If that President is Donald Trump it is a good bet that START 3 will not be renewed. Perhaps the same if it is one of the bellend Democratic candidates.
Russia is making contingency plans. Some of these are spelled out in the following news story, which I translate.
Its headline is incendiary, and the subheading is supposititious, but here it is, via The Independent Gazette, Независимая Газета:
THEY ARE MOVING THE NUCLEAR TRIAD CLOSER TO THE US AND NATO BORDERS
Strategic bombers might deploy in Cuba and Venezuela
Moscow is taking steps to ensure its security in case Washington does not renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires in February 2021. One of these steps will be to build up the aviation component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF) of the Russian Federation and bring it closer to the borders of a potential enemy.
An anonymous source in the military-industrial complex (MIC) told NG that the number of strategic missile carriers in the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation will increase not only through the construction of new White Swan (Tu-160M) aircraft, but also through deep modernization of the “Bear” (Tu-95MS) strategic bombers and the “Backfire” (Tu-22M3M).
In particular, it is assumed that the Tu-95MS will be equipped with a modernized power plant NK-12MPM, which will allow “significantly expanding the reach without mid-air refueling and doubling the number of weapons aboard.” All operational and strategic missile carriers Tu-22M3M will again be equipped for mid-air refueling, which will significantly increase the combat radius of the aircraft. According to NG, a source in the defense industry complex, “after signing in 1979 an agreement with the United States on the limitation of strategic weapons, the tubes for mid-air refueling were removed from the Tu-22M3, and were not installed on new ones.” In the near future, this shortcoming will be eliminated, and then, taking into account air refueling, the flight range of the modernized Tu-22M3 will increase from 6,000 to 12-15,000 km.”
According to official figures, the Russian Federation is armed with 16 strategic Tu-160 missile carriers of various modifications. In addition to this, Long-range Aviation of the Russian Armed Forces (Дальняя авиация ВС РФ) is expecting another 10 “strategists” Tu-160M worth 15 billion rubles. each according to a contract that was signed in January 2018. They will be built from scratch at the Kazan Aviation Plant named after S.P. Gorbunov.
According to media reports, two aircraft of this series are already preparing for testing.
Of course, given the changing geopolitical situation near the Russian borders, this number of the most modern strategic missile carriers is clearly not enough.
And other options are being worked out to strengthen the air component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces, including modernizing more than 60 Tu-95MS aircraft. But the main thing is that, apparently, almost as many Tu-22M3M missile carriers will replenish the army of aviation “strategics” in the strategic nuclear forces. They will not have to be rebuilt. And the technical modernization of these missile carriers will not be as burdensome as building a Tu-160M from scratch.
True, to increase the strategic radius of the Tu-22M3M, it is necessary to refuel it in the air with the help of Il-78 air tankers, of which there are a limited number left in the Russian Air Force (a little more than 10 units), and the new Il-78s are only preparing for serial production. In Soviet times, all tankers for Russian Long Range Aviation were produced at the Tashkent Aircraft Plant (Uzbekistan). They have been trying to establish production for several years at the Ulyanovsk aircraft factory Aviastar-SP. But so far only one prototype has been built.
Meanwhile, in addition to improving aircraft, Moscow is developing measures aimed at bringing its air bases closer to the military infrastructure of the United States and NATO, which to some extent would eliminate the need for IL-78 aircraft. Similar issues, sources in the defense industry say, were discussed in the Kremlin last week when plans for the development of the military organization of the Russian Federation for the coming decade were discussed with the participation of President Vladimir Putin.
It is possible that the question of the approximation of Russian military facilities from which a nuclear missile response to the actions of a likely enemy is possible will be included in the content of the Military Doctrine. Of course, this provision will be included, taking into account the use of other components of the strategic nuclear forces, that is, missile forces of the Navy and Strategic Missile Forces.
In the Russian army, maneuvers are already underway to solve such problems. As the Ministry of Defense reported in August, a tactical flight exercise was held involving 10 Tu-160, Tu-95MS, as well as Il-78 tankers. They were transferred to the Anadyr airport in Chukotka, where they solved the corresponding tasks.
As media reported, the military “strategics” Tu-22M3M will again receive a residence permit in the Crimea, near Dzhankoy. Their temporary base in Belarus and Armenia is not ruled out. Suggestions are being made about the possible deployment of IL-78 and “strategists” at the airfields of Cuba, Venezuela and Algeria. It is conditionally possible to add South Africa, Syria and Egypt to this list.