Soviet nuclear missiles wil remain on duty, top Russian general promises

Soviet built nuclear missiles remain combat-ready and will keep on forming the core of Russia's strategic forces for another decade and more, head of the Strategic Missile Forces Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov said Tuesday.

The Interfax-Military News Agency quoted Solovtsov as saying that the RS-20 missiles, which already had served more than 2 1/2 times longer than their designated lifetime, could remain on duty for another 10-15 years.

The RS-20 intercontinental ballistic missile, known in the West as the SS-18 Satan, is the heaviest missile in Russia's strategic nuclear forces inventory.

"Although more than 80 percent of missile systems have exhausted their designated lifetime, the existing maintenance and operation system of the Strategic Missile Forces allow reliability and technical readiness of missile systems to remain on the necessary level," Solovtsov was quoted as saying.

Solovtsov also said that the nuclear missiles of another type, the RS-18, which have been on duty since 1980, will be gradually replaced by missiles of similar manufacture that had been stored without fuel. Those missiles will serve through 2020s, he was quoted as saying.

Following the Soviet collapse, the Russian military was hit with perennial funding problems and it has struggled to extend the lifetime of Soviet-built missiles, since the government lacks money to replace them with new weapons.

In recent years, the Strategic Missile Forces have acquired just a handful of new Topol-M missiles _ a rate many experts consider insufficient to replace the aging missile arsenals.

Solovtsov said Tuesday that another batch of Topol-Ms will enter service later this year, and he shrugged off comments about the slow rate of deployment, the AP reports.

"Russia doesn't need to compete with anyone in building up numbers of missiles and their nuclear warheads," he was quoted as saying. "We have a sufficient nuclear potential to protect ourselves and our allies."

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