Jeffrey LewisRussian Subs Just Don't Patrol Like They Used To

Hans Kristensen has pieced together a history of Russian nuclear submarine patrols over 1981-2004:

The Russian nuclear submarine force is far less active than during the Cold War. Since 1984, according to information obtained from the U.S. Navy, the annual number of extended patrols performed by strategic nuclear submarines and nuclear-powered attack submarines has dropped from more than 230 in 1984 to less than 10 today.

Hans also finds that Russian nuclear submarines now patrol much closer to Russia than they did in the late 1980s.

Pavel Podvig recently updated the order of battle for the Russian strategic fleet on his blog.

Eugene Miasnikov at the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT has been calling for the USN to stop tailing Russian submarines on patrol, fearing an accident.

Of course, if the Russians essentially stop patrolling, that works too.

I am a heretic—for an arms controller—on the virtues of the submarine-based deterrent. I prefer land-based ICBMs, kept off alert.

You know, like the Chinese do it.


  1. JLo (History)

    “I am a heretic—for an arms controller—on the virtues of the submarine-based deterrent. I prefer land-based ICBMs, kept off alert.”

    I don’t know if you’ve fully explained this position here-and it may be too pedantic for the non-wonkish types among us-but I’d appreciate a post on why this makes sense.

    [The short answer is, did you see Crimson Tide? ACW]

  2. JLo (History)

    Is there a middle ground between ACW and Ridley Scott?

  3. dylan (History)

    Could you please cite the source for the claim that PRC missiles (ICBM and MRBM) are unfueled and with their warheads in storage? The assertion is made several times in your article, and again here, but without footnotes.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I cited it in this blog post and my dissertation.

    The source is National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs Robert D. Walpole, speaking before the Carnegie Endowment in September 1998:

    Our report further noted that we judge that an unauthorized or accidental launch of a Russian or Chinese strategic missile is highly unlikely, as long as current security procedures and systems are in place. Russia employs an extensive array of technical and procedural safeguards and China keeps its missiles unfueled and without warheads mated.

    Walpole repeated the claim in Congressional testimony in December 1998 (see S. HRG. 106–339, Ballistic Missiles: Threat and Response).

    Don Rumsfeld and other Rumsfeld Commission members hae made the same claim. In 1999, Rumsfeld said “my understanding is that the Chinese nuclear ballistic missiles … have their warheads stored separately from the ballistic missiles. … But they are not on an alert basis, if you will. They’re not on a trigger basis.” Garwin said the same.

  5. dylan (History)

    So in fact your point is that back in 1998 (maybe 1999 unless the speakers then were going off the 1998 reporting) the IC thought they were stored separately. Seems they were talking about ICBMs, what is the source for your point that MRBMs (i.e. DF-21s) are also stored away from the launchers?

  6. jay denari (History)

    Hi, Jeffrey & all,

    Very interesting blog; I write one on similar subjects, so it’s good to see a different source to bounce ideas off.

    I think I understand your “Crimson Tide” reference—meaning, a rogue commander and/or one unable to receive orders that countermand a mistaken attack order could start WW3. That’s possible, but if everyone’s aware of the subs, we can do away with the land-based missiles and thereby reduce the number of targets = reduce the number of potential deaths on both sides AND the number of warheads overall. Having subs is a better deterrent to a sneaky first strike.

    Of course, we should be aiming for elimination of SLBMs and ICBMs. Personally, I’d love to be able to do so and never have them again, but that’s not practical, so maintaining just a couple of subs is the next best thing, since it doesn’t take many of them to do crippling damage.