Estimated Strategic Nuclear Weapons Inventories

Estimated Strategic Nuclear Weapons Inventories (September 2004)

United States

ICBMS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
Minuteman III (Mk12A) .07 3 x .34 MT 300
Minuteman III (Mk12) .12 3 x .17 MT 50
Minuteman III DL .07 1 x .17 MT 150
MX .05 10 x .30 MT 29

SLBMS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
Trident C-4 6 warheads .25 6 x .10 MT 72
Trident C-4 8 warheads .25 8 x .10 MT 240
Trident D-5 .05 8 x .475 MT 48

BOMBERS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
B-52H, ALCM NA 20 x .2 MT (ALCM) 56
B-2 NA 16 x .5 MT 21

Russia

ICBMS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
SS-18 m4 .23 10 x .75 MT 120
SS-19 m3 .19 6 x .75 MT 130
SS-24 rail based .10 10 x .55 MT 15
SS-25 mobile .10 1 x .55 MT 312
SS-27 .19 1 x .55 MT 36

SLBMS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
SS-N-18 .45 3 x .2 MT 96
SS-N-20 .25 10 x .1 MT 40
SS-N-23 .45 4 x .1 MT 96

BOMBERS

Type CEP (nm) Weapon Details (number x yield) Number of SNDV
Blackjack (Tu-160) NA 12 x AS-15B ALCM (.25 MT) 14
Bear H16 (Tu-95) NA 16 x AS-15A ALCM (.25 MT) 32
Bear H6 (Tu-95) NA 6 x AS-15A ALCM (.25 MT) 32

Some Cautions and Caveats (Particularly About Bombers)

Not surprisingly there is not universal agreement on the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. What is given here is my best guess from a variety of open sources.

In general, I have taken the weapon counts from the State Department document listed below, which lists the "START countable" weapons systems. But in some cases I have deviated. For example, the B-1 bomber is listed in the treaty. However, it has been assigned a conventional role, so I don't believe it would be "readily available" for a nuclear role. So it isn't listed in the table.

As well, some the provisions of the treaty (the "counting rules") may strike the observer as a bit odd. At the time of the negotiation, it was felt that bombers armed with gravity bombs were the least dangerous type of strategic weapons delivery system. This is because their flight time (about the same speed as a commercial jet aircraft) from one homeland to the other is so long that the target country would be very likely to know a bomber strike was coming. As well, planes armed with bombs would have to travel all the way to the target to strike it, and would be vulnerable to anti-aircraft defenses. These bombers are treated differently in START. ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers armed with cruise missiles all have some agreed upon number that represents the number of warheads or cruise missiles they would carry. But bombers that are considered to be armed with gravity bombs are considered to only have one weapon. This is clearly not accurate.

But knowing that does not make it easy to supply the "real" bomb load. Why? First of all, bombers can be armed in a variety of ways. They can carry different types of nuclear bombs, for example. And they may not always carry the maximum number. One more interesting complication. A number of nuclear weapons are designed with a variable yield. So depending on the "setting," the total megatonnage carried by the bomber can change.

So when you see any specific figures for the weapons carried by a bomber, understand that estimate of the amount of megatonnage is just that, an estimate. This is particularly important to keep in mind because bombers can carry a lot more megatonnage than an ICBM or a SLBM.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Thanks to Bob Johnston, University of Texas at Brownsville for his very insightful and useful comments on the information on this page.

Sources:

Number of SNDV, Warheads for SLBMs and ICBMs of both countries.

Bomb loads for US bombers

Russian Cruise Missile Yields

U.S. Nuclear Bomb Characteristics

CEP Values

Images scanned from SOVIET MILITARY POWER, 1988, 1990-1991.  Dept. of Defense.