THE TWO SUPERPOWERS are about to resume negotiations on nuclear arms control, but the resumption of talks in no way signifies a pause in the strategic arms race. Even if they eventually reach new arms control agreements, both the United States and the Soviet Union will almost certainly continue building and deploying large numbers of new strategic weapons.
Since the first arms negotiations began, both sides have insisted on protecting their major options for modernizing their nuclear forces, and both sides have invested heavily in new weapons. Even the 1972 ABM treaty which bans deployment of extensive ballistic-missile defenses has not cut off research and planning on these defensive weapons. The arms race in strategic weapons that many on both sides decry as wasteful and dangerous appears destined to continue, regardless of what may happen in Geneva.
It may be tempting to dismiss the coming generation of offensive weapons as more of the same old thing, but this isn't the case. The next round of new deployments on both sides will give each superpower weapons with improved accuracy and increased versatility, so military planners in both capitals will be able to devise more complex and flexible plans for using nuclear weapons.
Yet, since both sides have large and diversified arsenals, and both are poised to add a variety of new systems, none of the weapons currently under development offers the prospect of significantly shifting the balance of power, or of enhancing either superpower's relative security.
So both sides are going to spend many billions to acquire weapons that will do no more than prolong the current strategic stalemate. Having failed to find the will or the means to check the competition, the superpowers push it forward, aggravating political tensions between them.
The forseeable strategic forces on both sides should not create a markedly more dangerous world than the one we live in today. But as long as the competition continues without negotiated restraints, the chance of one side making a really threatening technological breakthrough remains. And if we are going to begin a new race in defensive weapons as well by adopting President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, then the prospects before us are even more dangerous.
Moreover, the coming generation of offensive weapons will make it more difficult to stop the competition later than it might be to stop it now, because they complicate arms control. Many of the new weapons are harder to count from satellites in space than existing ones, making verification of new agreements much more difficult.
In one interesting respect, the coming new generation of nuclear weaponry will be a departure from the past. Until now, the Soviet and American arsenals have been fundamentally different. This country has depended on a relatively balanced mix of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, bombers and cruise missiles -- unpiloted drones fired from intercontinental bombers. The Soviet Union has developed all of those weapons, too, but has put by far its greatest reliance -- 70 percent of its strategic weapons -- on intercontinental missiles based on land.
But the Soviets are putting more effort into bombers and submarine-launched missiles, and the evolution of common technology on both sides suggests that the next generations of Soviet and U.S. strategic weapons are likely to be quite comparable.
An enumeration of the new weapons now on the horizon indicates how much modernization we are likely to see:
* Land-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Both the United States and the Soviet Union are developing new ICBMs. The United States, despite continuing political controversy, is flight testing the MX, looking toward its initial operational capability in December 1986. This powerful solid-fuel missile is designed to carry 10 warheads, the maximum permitted under the SALT II treaty which was never ratified, but whose limits both countries have decided largely to respect.
Air Force officials report that in its flight tests to date, the MX has demonstrated accuracies that are "far greater than anybody ever expected" and thus the potent MX warheads will be "more than adequate to destroy even the hardest (that is, the most protected) known target." After more than a decade of debate over its basing configurations, the Reagan administration proposes to deploy 100 MXs in existing Minuteman silos located in Nebraska and Wyoming. Unfortunately, its deployment in this manner will do nothing to ease the serious vulnerability of the U.S. silo-based ICBM force to the current -- let alone future -- generations of accurate Soviet ICBMs.
Partially as a response to widespread concern about that vulnerability, the U.S. has also begun initial development of a new small ICBM popularly known as the "Midgetman." Latest reports indicate that the Air Force is looking toward the development of a small, single warhead, solid-fueled missile, weighing approximately 30,000 lbs. (The MX weighs 190,000 lbs.) The Midgetman may be deployed as a mobile missile that could move about on a specially designed, blast- resistent "transporter" or in "superhard" fixed silos, to increase its survivability.
The Midgetman is expected to have the same warhead as the MX and excellent accuracy, giving it very high capabilities against the hardest Soviet targets. This missile is scheduled to begin flight testing in 1988, as called for by the Congress, looking toward deployment in 1992.
The U.S. also continues to improve the accuracy of its 550 three- warhead Minuteman III missiles, the backbone of the American ICBM force. Gen. Charles Gabriel, the Air Force chief of staff, reported last fall that improvements in computer guidance software had made Minuteman 30 percent more accurate in recent years.
The United States is also working on new generations of active and passive decoys to serve as "penetration aids" that could deceive Soviet defenses; maneuvering reentry vehicles capable of homing in on specific targets that can provide high accuracy; and even specially designed nuclear or conventional warheads for the suppression of ABM defenses, all as a hedge against the possibility the Soviets will deploy substantial ballistic-missile defenses in the future.
Consistent with their traditions, the Soviets have an even more ambitious ICBM modernization effort under way. Since the late '70s they have been developing their own version of the MX, the SS- X-24, an MX-sized, solid-fuel missile also carrying 10 warheads. Flight tests began in October 1982. The accuracy of the SS-X-24 is projected to be somewhat less than that of the MX, but nevertheless better than those of the current generation, liquid-fuel SS-18 and SS- 19 missiles, which are already credited with high accuracy.
Reports indicate that this missile will likely be deployed in converted SS-17 or SS-19 silos, which are said to be twice or three times as hard as their U.S. counterparts, and possibly also as a mobile missile installed on special railroad cars, to further improve survivability. Initial deployment of the SS-X-24 is anticipated in late 1985 or 1986.
The Soviets are also flight testing a second solid-propellant ICBM, the SS-X-25, which is about the size of the American Minuteman, with a launch weight of some 70,000 pounds. According to available data, the Soviets apparently intend to deploy the SS-X-25 in a manner similar to their current SS-20 intermediate-range missile that is aimed at European and Asian targets. The SS-X-25 will be mounted on a wheeled vehicle with a limited off-road mobile capability. This system will be parked in garages with sliding roofs when no alert condition is in effect. Some SS-X-25s will likely also be deployed in 60 silos as a replacement for the 1960s-vintage SS-13.
The Soviets have claimed that the SS-X-25 is simply a modification of the much older SS-13, a claim made in response to U.S. charges that flight testing of both the SS-X-24 and SS-X-25 represents a violation of SALT II, which permits the signatories to test only one "new" ICBM during the life of the treaty. Some US press accounts have reported that the weight of the SS-X-25 is substantially greater than that of the SS-13 -- well beyond the 5 percent variation allowed for a simple modification. Flight testing of the SS-X-25 began in December 1982, and it will probably reach initial operational status some time in the first half of 1985.
The Soviets are also reportedly developing -- but have not begun flight testing -- two additional ICBMs. One is said to be a large, solid-propellant missile, somewhat larger than the SS-19, whose testing would clearly violate SALT II. But SALT II expires at the end of this year, and the Soviets may be working on this missile as a hedge, in case no new agreement comes into force.
The second Soviet missile under development is reportedly a liquid-fueled "heavy" missile similar to the mammoth SS-18. It too would violate SALT II unless it were a close copy, and thus a permmited "modification" of the SS-18.
* Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM's). Both countries are already deploying new SLBMs, the U.S. Trident I/C-4 and the Soviet SS-N-20. These missiles are carried aboard new, very large nuclear-powered submarines, the U.S. Trident, with 24 launch tubes, and the Soviet Typhoon-class, with 20 launch tubes. Both subs are being constructed at a rate of approximately one new boat per year. These deployments began in the early 1980s.
The United States has also put 304 Trident/C-4 missiles on 19 converted Poseidon-class subs. Both Trident I/C-4 and SS-N-20 SLBMs are very long-range missiles, and each carries 8 independently targetable warheads. Their longer range will permit both sides to operate their subs at great distances from the adversary's homeland, affording greater protection from the other side's efforts to detect and -- in a war -- kill submarines capable of launching missiles.
The U.S. also has plans to develop and deploy (beginning in 1989) the Trident II/D-5 submarine-launched missile, larger and more powerful than the Trident I/C-4 missile. The most significant improvement planned for the Trident II, however, is a very substantial upgrade in its accuracy. An improved inertial guidance system assisted by inflight stellar fixes is intended to give the Trident II accuracy considerably better than that of the current, land-based Minuteman force. This would give the United States, for the first time, a sea-based capability to 'kill" hardened Soviet targets. The British government also plans to purchase the Trident II/D-5 missile for installation aboard four new strategic submarines in the 1990s.
The Soviets are also flight testing a second new, multiple warhead SLBM, the SS-NX-23, which is apparently intended as the follow-on replacement for the SS-N-18 now in service. There are no indications, however, that this new missile will have accuracies comparable to those anticipated for the Trident II/D-5. It seems safe to assume, however, that the Soviets are working hard to acquire such a capability and they are likely to succeed in this effort some time in the 1990s.
This evolution in the submarine-launched missile capacity of both sides -- which will eventually give both the theoretical capability to destroy the other side's silo-based missiles using only submarine- based missiles -- would solve a significant attack timing problem that has confronted the would-be first striker over the past two decades. Today, the would-be attacker cannot hope to destroy the adversary's land-based ICBMs with relatively inaccurate submarine- based missiles. Rather the attacker would have to rely upon his more accurate ICBMs for this mission. The 25-30 minute flight time of these missiles will almost certainly provide the "victim" with ample opportunity to launch his ICBMs after receiving tactical warning that he is under attack.
The availability of extremely accurate sub-launched missiles, if they are placed on patrol at considereably less than intercontinental ranges from their targets, would radically alter the strategic situation. It would allow the attacker to launch strikes against bomber bases, missile silos, and key command and control facilities simultaneously with flight times to the most distant of these targets that might be under 15 minutes rather than the 25-30 minutes now required for an ICBM attack.
The Soviets could opt for "depressed trajectory" missiles that fly a more direct path to their targets, and get to them much faster than missiles that fly the standard "minimum energy" trajectory that carries them considerably further outside the Earth's atmosphere enroute to their objectives. At least theoretically, these technical advances would make a first strike against fixed land-based missiles and bomber bases much more plausible and threatening than it is now.
* Heavy bombers. Both superpowers are in the process of adapting older bombers, the American B-52Gs and Hs and the Soviet Bear-H, to carry small, modern air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The U.S. has been doing this for some four years and has already adapted 98 B-52Gs to carry 12 ALCMs each under their wings and has begun a program which, over the next three years, will convert another 96 B-52Hs to carry 20 ALCMs, 12 mounted externally, and another 8 carried in a rotary launcher in the bomb bay.
The U.S. is currently deploying the ALCM-B, a small, nuclear- armed missile that relies on a small turbofan engine and the combination of inertial guidance and a computer-based navigation system that "reads" the terrain below to tell it where it is. This permits the cruise missile to fly at very low level over long range and strike within a few hundred feet of it target.
The Soviets have only recently begun production of a new cruise missile carrier version of the 1950s-vintage turboprop Bear bomber. This aircraft will likely carry the AS-X-15 modern ALCM beginning in 1985. Soviet bombers have been equipped with cruise missiles like the AS-3 Kangaroo and the AS-4 Kitchen since the early 1960s, but these shorter range, first generation cruise missiles are so large that only one or two of them can be carried by each bomber. The new Bear H's will presumably carry 10 or more modern cruise missiles.
In addition to deploying ALCMs on older bombers, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union will also have the option of deploying these missiles on the new bombers they are currently flight-testing, either immediately or some years after the new aircraft enter service. The U.S. currently plans to begin flight testing ALCMs on the B-1, which will be able to carry up to 22 of these missiles, in the summer of 1988, almost two years after its initial operational deployment.
While the Soviets are only on the verge of entering the modern ALCM era, the U.S. is already planning to move from its original 1500-mile range missile to a "stealthy" advanced cruise missile. This is reported to incorporate special shaping and radar absorptive materials to produce a substantially reduced radar-reflecting cross section that may not even show up on Soviet radar screens. It may also employ on-board electronic countermeasures to greatly complicate Soviet air defense efforts. The advanced cruise missile is said to be somewhat larger and have substantially greater range than the ALCM-B, which itself will apparently be modified with a new, more powerful and fuel-efficient engine and possibly even on-board electronic countermeasures in the years ahead to futher improve penetration prospects.
Both superpowers' new bombers will add significant capabilities. The U.S. B-1B is a substantially upgraded derivative of the original B-1, designed and initially tested in the 1970s, canceled by President Carter in June 1977, and revived in 1981. This bomber has a reduced radar cross section -- one tenth that of the B-1A, and only 1/100 that of the B-52. It will have the ability to create effective electronic "countermeasures" -- that is, deceptions or electronic "decoys" of itself to fool Soviet radar. This should allow the B-1B to penetrate the improving Soviet strategic air defense network well into the 1990s. The first of 100 B-1Bs to be deployed are to become operational in 1986.
Not to be outdone, the Soviets have also begun to flight test a large new bomber, designated Blackjack by NATO, whose initial deployment is expected in 1986 or 1987. Somewhat larger than the B-1B, it is a likely candidate to carry the AS-X-15 ALCM as well as gravity bombs and perhaps a shorter range standoff missile.
In addition to the B-1B the US is developing and plans to deploy the so-called advanced technology or "steath" bomber in the early 1990s to further complicate Soviet air defense efforts. It has been reported that the U.S. plans eventually to produce about 130 of these bombers. Like "stealthy" cruise missiles, the bomber will be made in a special shape with special material to minimize Soviet opportunities to detect and track it with conventional radars. The Soviets may have plans for a similar plane, but there have been no reports of any development so far, and the Russians probably trail America by several years at least in this technology.
* Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs). Both the United States and the Soviet Union are in very early stages of the large-scale deployment of a new generation of small, long-range sea-launched cruise missiles, designed primarily to increase the capabilities of both navies to strike targets ashore. In the late 1950s and early 1960s both superpowers fielded a small number of shorter range, first generation nuclear- armed SLCMs for this purpose. These missiles were carried by specially configured submarines which had to surface to launch them. These systems, however, were quite rapidly phased out as both sides deployed longer range, more accurate submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The Soviets, lacking carrier-based airpower, resorted to the expedient of fielding a large number of shorter range, antiship SLCMs, carried aboard many different surface ships and submarines, primarily for use against U.S. carrier battle groups. In the 1970s, the U.S. followed suit by deploying the short-range Harpoon antiship cruise missile.
The new generation of American sea-launched cruise missiles -- and presumably the Soviet versions as well -- use the same small turbofan engines and advanced navigation and guidance developments that are used on their air-and ground-launched cousins. These SLCMs will probably be deployed on a wide variety of surface ships and submarines, with many versions capable of launch through the standard- sized torpedo tubes on attack submarines. Their long range and high accuracy will permit them, when armed with nuclear or conventional warheads, to be targeted against port facilities, air bases, ground force units, industrial areas, and other high value targets located near the coast and quite deep in enemy territory.
Almost 4000 copies of three types of new U.S. SLCMs are to be produced over the next several years. About 760 of these will be the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile -- Nuclear for attacks against targets on land. The remaining 3240 will be armed with conventional expolosives for land-attack and anti-ship missions. All three systems are currently being deployed. They will eventually be deployed on 180 ships, including attack submarines and surface vessels.
The versatility and flexibility of the small, relatively inexpensive, highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missile is a large part of its military appeal. It can perform numerous missions, with conventional or nuclear warheads.
But from a another perspective, this same flexibility raises serious problems. Because conventionally and nuclear-armed variants are indistinguishable, because it will be virtually impossible to identify which ships and submarines are carrying SLCMs, and because so many of these will be produced, it will be hard to incorporate these missiles in any future arms control agreement. How will it be possible to verify how many long-range nuclear-armed SLCM's either country has deployed when they can be easily hidden, or easily confused with short-range or non-nuclear cruise missiles? Perhaps prompted in part by these difficulties, the Reagan administration has avoided including limits on SLCMs in any of its arms control proposals.
We know a great deal less about Soviet cruise missile programs, but reports indicate the Russians, too, are testing a sea-launched SS-N-21 roughly comparable to the American Tomahawk. Last fall they claimed that they have deployed SLCMs on submarines that were said to be patrolling within range of the United States.
The Soviets are also flight testing a second SLCM which has not yet been assigned a NATO designation. This missile, which apparently has a ground-launched variant as well, is much larger than the SS- N-21, and, according to the Chief of U.S. Naval Intelligence, may be capable of flying faster than the speed of sound. Its size would appear to preclude launch through standard attack submarine torpedo tubes, suggesting the requirement for special launchers that could be placed on submarines or surface combatants. This SLCM will probably be fielded initially in 1985 or 1986.
* Intermediate-range Ballistic Missiles. Here again there is a degree of symmetry in the numbers and types of weapons currently being developed and deployed by the superpowers, but this is occurring against a background of very pronounced Soviet advantage. Last year the Soviets resumed deployment of the 3000-mile range, mobile, SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with its three independently targetable warheads. Between 1977 and 1983 the Soviets had already deployed 378 of these missiles carrying 1134 warheads. Western spokesmen have speculated that ultimately the Soviets may deploy 500 SS-20's.
In contrast, the U.S. has deployed just more than half the 108 mobile, single warhead Pershing II missiles planned for the Federal Republic of Germany. This deployment, which began in December 1983, is part of the two-track, intermediate-range nuclear force modernization effort agreed to by NATO in December 1979.
The U.S. has also deployed 48 of the 464 Tomahawk ground- launched cruise missiles (GLCM's) planned for several Western European countries. The GLCM is virtually identicial to the nuclear- armed Tomahawk land attack cruise missile noted earlier.
The Soviets are flight testing two new ground-launched cruise missiles, an 1800-mile range model, the SSC-X-4, and a larger one that is reportedly similar to the large, sea-launched cruise missile noted above which may be able to attain supersonic flight speeds. Both these Soviet cruise missiles may be operationally deployed in 1985 or 1986.
* Intermediate-Range Bombers. The Soviets continue to build and deploy the controversial Backfire intermediate-range bomber at a rate of about 30 a year. Half are assigned as shore-based naval bombers for potential use aainst U.S. surface ships; the remainder are sent to Long Range Aviation for inclusion in two air armies postured to conduct theater air operations, nuclear or conventional, in Europe and the Far East.
The Backfire, although considerably smaller than the Soviets' truly intercontinental heavy bombers like the Bear, Bison, and Blackjack, could apparently carry out unrefueled strikes against the continental United States as long as the bombers were prepared to ditch after completing their missions or could land somewhere in the Western Hemisphere after their attacks.
The U.S. has no plans to develop or deploy a new bomber of this type. The Air Force does have 66 smaller FB-111s based in the U.S., but there is talk of converting their role to shorter-range, tactical missions in the early 1990s.
In sum, the Soviet Union and the United States are engaged in the development and deployment of a wide variety of new strategic offensive systems. The breadth of these costly programs which, in many cases, bear strong resemblance to one another, reflects a common commitment to increase the surtvivability and improve the effectiveness of the military forces on both sides.
These new weapons appear destined to perpetuate the assured retaliation stalemate and the rough parity in intercontinental nuclear attack forces that currently prevail between the United States and the Soviet Union. New arms control agreements are unlikely to stop deployment of any of these systems, though it is possible that such agreements could be designed to reduce the ultimate force levels on both sides and to provide additional assurance that the United States and the Soviet Union will succeed in maintaining a stable deterrent balance -- in which both will continue to see the futility of launching a first strike -- well into the 1990s.