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Russia Hopes To Deploy New Nuclear Missile Next Year


Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin

Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia hopes to deploy a new submarine-launched nuclear missile next year, underlining Moscow's determination to upgrade its nuclear strike forces, a senior defense official has been quoted as saying.

Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin, head of armaments for the Russian armed forces, told the Defense Ministry newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" that Russia's recent war with Georgia "compels us to rethink the current state of the armed forces and how they should develop further".

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have both pledged to extend Russia's recent military build-up with extra funds to buy new, high-tech arms. On October 1, Putin announced an extra $3.1 billion of spending next year, partly to replace equipment lost in the Georgia war.

But despite the billions of dollars spent since Putin came to power as president in 2000, Russia's million-strong armed forces remain poorly equipped, badly paid, and reliant on a large proportion of unwilling conscripts.

Defense analysts based in Moscow say much of the extra spending has not reached the front line because of corruption or mismanagement and many weapons programs are running late.

One of these is the Bulava, a submarine-launched long-range nuclear missile that Putin says will be capable of penetrating any missile defenses -- a reference to Washington's plans for a new global system to shoot down hostile missiles.

The Bulava, a modified version of the land-based Topol-M, has had a checkered history with several test launch failures and is running at least two years late.

The navy pronounced the latest Bulava exercise on September 18 a success, saying the missile flew from the White Sea right across Russia to the Far East.

Popovkin, who is also deputy defense minister, said he hoped the armed forces would accept the Bulava for service next year. Upgrading Russia's strategic nuclear forces remained a top priority because they were the cornerstone of its defenses.

"As long as we are a nuclear power, no hotheads will venture to attack our country," Popovkin said in the interview.

"We have already this year started fitting out strategic nuclear forces with the Topol-M missile," he added.

Russia also planned to modernize its nuclear-capable Tupolev TU-160 supersonic strategic bombers and to fully commission the first of three new nuclear-powered submarines to carry the Bulava missile, he added.

The first of these submarines, the "Yury Dolgoruky," was launched in February, six years after its original scheduled date, though it still lacks the missiles it was designed to carry.
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