Russia to Upgrade Its Missile Arsenal

The military will upgrade its missiles in response to U.S. plans for weapons in space, a top general reportedly said Monday.

Strategic Missile Forces chief Nikolai Solovtsov said Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles will be modernized to protect them from space-based components of the U.S. missile-defense system, Interfax reported.

The upgrade will make the missiles' warheads capable of flying "outside the range" of the space-based system, Solovtsov was quoted as saying.

He did not elaborate, but Russian officials have previously boasted about prospective new warheads capable of making sharp maneuvers on the way to their targets to dodge missile defenses.

Solovtsov was also quoted as saying the military will commission new RS-24 missiles equipped with state-of-the-art systems to penetrate a missile shield.

Russia has criticized U.S. plans for space-based weapons, saying they could trigger a new arms race. Washington has resisted efforts by Russia and China to negotiate a global ban on weapons in space.

Reflecting Russia's suspicions about U.S. intentions, Solovtsov alleged Monday that the United States is considering a scenario of a first nuclear strike that would destroy most Russian missiles. A few surviving Russian weapons launched in retaliation could then be destroyed by the U.S. missile-defense system.

Solovtsov said the concept was not feasible.

"The Americans will never be able to implement this scenario, because Russian strategic nuclear forces, including the Strategic Missile Forces, will be capable of delivering a strike of retribution under any course of developments," he said, Interfax reported.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the prospective missile-defense system is not aimed at Russia.

But the Kremlin has fiercely opposed the U.S. plan to deploy a battery of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar station in the Czech Republic. Russian leaders have dismissed U.S. claims that the sites are to counter a missile threat from Iran, saying they will threaten Russia's nuclear forces.

The day after Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential election, President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia would respond to the U.S. plans by deploying short-range missiles in its westernmost region of Kaliningrad.

Medvedev and his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then took a step back, saying Russia will only make the move if the U.S. deploys the missile defense in Europe. They voiced hope that the new U.S. administration will scrap the plan.

Although windfall oil revenues allowed the Kremlin to boost military budgets, domestic arms makers have had trouble producing new weapons because of the loss of key technologies and the exodus of qualified workers.