Russia's tactical nuclear drills aim at effective deterrence against NATO: expert
Published: May 22, 2024 11:18 PM
NATO's stamina wane Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

NATO's stamina wane Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Russia forces launched the first stage of tactical nuclear drills on Tuesday, which serves as a response to some provocative statements made by some Western officials, according to Russian media. Some Chinese military experts said on Wednesday that the purpose of the drills is not for actual combat but for effective deterrence, ensuring that the US and NATO do not act impulsively. 

The drills will involve delivery of nuclear weapons to troops from storage sites, arming tactical nuclear missiles, and preparation of missile launches, RT reported on Tuesday. 

The troops will be using Iskander-M systems, which can fire 9M723-1 ballistic missiles or 9M728 cruise missiles, both of which can carry tactical nuclear warheads with yields of between five and 50 kilotons, Russian news site RT said. 

The exercise will also involve nuclear arming of the air-launched missiles, including the state-of-the-art, hypersonic Kinzhal. The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles and the Kh-32 cruise missiles that are delivered by Russian bombers are capable of carrying warheads similar to those mounted on Iskander projectiles, RT said. During the drills, Russian aircraft are to fly on patrol missions armed with these missiles, according to the ministry.

The Kremlin decided in early May to hold tactical nuclear weapons drills in response to some NATO countries' remarks about potentially sending troops to Ukraine, according to media reports. French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier that sending Western troops to Ukraine could not be ruled out, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron suggested that Ukraine has the right to use UK-supplied weapons to strike targets on Russian territory. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the US House of Representatives passed legislation in April to provide a $61 billion military aid package for Ukraine which includes economic assistance and weapons. Some experts said that after a roughly six-month hiatus, Western military aid to Ukraine has resumed as quickly as possible.  

"Tactical nuclear drills are mainly aimed at NATO and do not have a direct connection to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The US and other NATO member states have already hinted at the possibility of military intervention to some extent," Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert and media commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Russia's tactical nuclear exercises are mainly to demonstrate strength and power, such as the rapid deployment capability of tactical nuclear weapons, as the US-led NATO military alliance is currently exerting tremendous military pressure on Russia, Wei noted. 

Moreover, the US has been engaging in nuclear activities, including conducting subcritical nuclear tests and continuously demonstrating its nuclear sharing capabilities within the framework of NATO exercises. "Therefore, Russia needs to be prepared at the tactical nuclear weapons level to deter and counterbalance NATO," Wei said. 

In response to the drills announced by the Kremlin in early May, US President Joe Biden and State Department officials downplayed concerns that Putin could deploy a nuclear weapon, but continue to take the threats seriously, CNN reported on May 7. 

The US said it had seen no change in Russia's "strategic force posture," according to the US media report. 

The US is rallying more countries to provide military aid to Ukraine, including NATO countries, EU countries, and even countries from the Indo-Pacific region, which could lead to a strategic misjudgment by the US, making them believe that Russia is weak or that its military capabilities are limited, a Beijing-based military expert who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

While Russia's conventional forces may have certain weaknesses compared to those of the US and NATO, both in terms of quantity and quality, Russia's strength lies in its nuclear arsenal, be it strategic or tactical nuclear weapons, which are on par with or even superior to those of the US, the expert said.  

"Therefore, through these actions, Russia aims to demonstrate its nuclear prowess to deter the US and other nuclear-armed nations such as the UK and France," the expert added. 

Tactical nuclear drills primarily involve small nuclear warheads on tactical missiles, focusing on the entire process of preparation, transportation and integration with weapons systems, experts said. 

Conducting tactical nuclear exercises does not mean launching actual nuclear warheads, it may involve the use of simulated warheads of the same size and weight, Wei noted. 

"The exercises encompass the entire process, including the deployment of troops equipped with Iskander tactical missiles and hypersonic missile systems. The main goal is to demonstrate the capability of tactical nuclear strikes using the two advanced tactical missile systems," the expert said. 

When commenting on how the US and the West will respond to Russia's "demonstrating its strength," some experts said a critical consideration for Western countries is whether the US is really willing to provide a nuclear umbrella for them. 

"The US has dispatched B-52 strategic bombers. These bombers are capable of both strategic and tactical strikes, as well as conventional operations. NATO countries, including the UK and EU nations, could recognize Russia's determination through these actions," the anonymous expert said.