When negotiators brought up the reload-refire matter in SALT II, the Russians agreed not to develop, test or deploy a “rapid” reload system—but only after insisting that their launchers did not fall into this category. Nevertheless, satellite and other intelligence indicates that about half of Soviet silos have been or will be fitted with cold-launched missiles (SS-17s, SS-18s and newer ICBMs now being developed).
Many defence analysts are deeply concerned that the potential hidden storehouses of Soviet ICBMs, backed up by this refire capacity, may enable the USSR to achieve a “break-out”—a sudden deployment of weapons that could quickly tip the strategic advantage in their favour.
Even by conservative estimates used in SALT II, the Russians will have at least 7,000 thermonuclear warheads by 1985. Break-out could suddenly add many more.
The United States ended production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons in 1964, hoping the Russians would follow suit. Instead, the Russians increased production and continue it today.
And, though the US atmospheric sensors give a general idea of Soviet nuclear-weapons-material production, without their co-operation there is no exact knowledge of how many warheads they are stockpiling. One highly placed intelligence source in Washington says, “Altogether there could well be twice as many warheads in the Soviet arsenal as our SALT negotiators believe will be deployed.”
An added worry is the SS-i6 ICBM. The Russians have used two stages of this large missile to create a smaller mobile one—the SS-2o. Although the SALT II agreement would prohibit deployment of a mobile ICBM system before 1981, at least too SS-2os have already been deployed.
The Russians claim this is an “intermediate-range” ballistic missile, poised mainly against Nato forces in Europe, but one group of these missiles has been spotted in the centre of the Soviet Union at an apparent ICBM installation. And analysts are wary of Soviet claims that the SS-2o is not of inter-continental range. US monitoring indicates that when the Russians tested it they loaded on 1,000 pounds of ballast. If this unnecessary weight was eliminated, the missile could easily be of ICBM range.
And the SS-i6 itself is a subject of concern. Many SS-16 first stages were built, but then disappeared. These first stages could be quickly mated to the two stages that make up the SS-2o, thus throwing another large ICBM into the strategic balance at some critical moment. Moreover, an SS-16—in fact, all Soviet ICBMs—need not be fired from a silo. They could be launched from virtually any pre-surveyed (for guidance) site, even from inside a building with a false roof.
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The Russians can precisely gauge America’s missile force simply by attending Congressional appropriations hearings, reading the aerospace Press or looking at easily obtained maps showing the nine Air Force bases where US ICBMs are located. By contrast, trying to learn about a new Soviet missile involves imprecise, long-range detective work.
For the most part, Washington relies on radar tracking of test firings and the reading of intercepted telemetry—the flow of electronic information sent back to the ground by the missile itself. Experts further attempt to get a “thumb-print” of a new missile by analysing the type of silo, cranes and service vans at a launch site. But the unco-operative Russians play cat-and-mouse with the United States by disguising equipment, encoding the telemetry coming from a missile and even hiding its true flight characteristics by adding or subtracting weight.
Unfair Play. Detective work has now become even more difficult. The sale of the operational manual of the KH-i z satellite to the Russians by a CIA employee has enabled them to take steps to elude the satellite’s photographic and electronic sensing equipment. And the US pull-out from Iran, where they operated an extensive array of radar and sensing devices, has severely hampered eavesdropping on prime Soviet test ranges.
American intelligence analysts are proud of US surveillance technology, but they feel that its merits may have been exaggerated by those eager to promote arms control. Some spy-satellite cameras can pick out objects the size of a plate. But the cameras can’t penetrate darkness or clouds.
And in covering the huge Soviet land mass, analysts must look where • they think they will find something. In the mid-1970s the Russians built four gigantic radar installations, possibly the largest in the world, near the Arctic Circle. It was two years before American satellites detected all of them, and then only after a tip from a defector.
Vast numbers of such Soviet military installations have been spotted by satellites, but remain shrouded in mystery. More than 150 heavily guarded structures, each covering about 30 acres and obviously of high military value, have been pinpointed all over the Soviet Union. But what goes on inside them ?
The limitations of surveillance systems make many intelligence analysts incredulous at the smooth assurances of the US State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency that America will be able to “verify” SALT II.
Washington says that SALT II is the “centrepiece” of American foreign policy, an important step in stopping the “arms race” while preserving strategic “equivalence.” But SALT II critics point to the steady decline of US strategic strength and the dramatic growth of Soviet power that have accompanied the protracted negotiations.
They see the lack of true constraints in the treaty and the concomitant American trend of unilateral arms limitation as ensuring the Russians, within the next half decade, the capacity to destroy the US ICBM force while using less than half of their missile force.
Yet the real problem with SALT lies outside the treaty—in the great unknown concerning true Soviet ballistic-missile and warhead production. It seems almost inconceivable that the United States has allowed so many years of negotiations to go by without obtaining the most rudimentary information from the Russians about their missile production.
A rational revelation of their strategic inventory—and the certain means of confirming the figures—should have been the premier and absolutely non-negotiable demands of the United States.
Unless that great unknown is pierced, SALT II limitations on “launchers” are meaningless, and neither an elaborate treaty nor the interest of Moscow in “peaceful coexistence” can be counted upon.
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