Six new atomic submarines, armed with improved nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, will join the Russian navy. The Defence Ministry said the first, the Severodvinsk, will be launched in 2011 and at least five others of the same type will be built by 2017.
The new hypersonic cruise missiles with increased range are designed to strike "aircraft carriers of the potential enemy if they pose a direct threat to Russia's security," the ministry said. It added that the missiles are also capable of hitting land targets. Russia has increasingly relied on nuclear weapons to compensate for the decline of its conventional forces. In December, the chief of the Russian general staff, General Nikolai Makarov, said Russia will keep its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, which he said were necessary to counter a massive Nato advantage in conventional weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons have a much shorter range compared to strategic nuclear weapons. They are intended for use within a theatre of battle. Earlier this week, the Russian navy's deputy chief of staff said the role of tactical nuclear weapons in the Russian navy may grow. Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev said the increasing range and precision of tactical nuclear weapons makes them an important asset.