General blasts off

The head of the former Soviet Union's strategic rocket forces - responsible for launching nuclear missiles in case of attack - said in an interview yesterday that the service was so short of staff that he had to go on combat duty himself, Reuter reports from Moscow.

In the Soviet era, they were the elite corps of the armed forces.

'Today manning levels of duty crews are only 50 to 60 per cent of what they should be,' Colonel- General Igor Sergeyev told the armed forces' daily newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda. He also said that a large number of missiles had exceeded their service lives.