WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- Russian nuclear submarines conducted only three patrols last year, indicating Moscow may have effectively abandoned their use as a deterrent, says a new report.
The Federation of American Scientists published its Nuclear Notebook this week, revealing that the number of deterrence patrols conducted by Russia's 11 nuclear ballistic missiles submarines decreased to only three in 2007 from five in 2006.
In comparison, U.S. nuclear subs conducted 54 patrols in 2007, more than three times as many as all the other nuclear-weapon states combined.
Owing to "changed strategic circumstances" Moscow has apparently concluded "they don't need this (submarine deterrent capability) for their security," the federation's Hans Kristensen told UPI, citing principally the end of the Cold War nuclear standoff.
For such a deterrent to be fully credible, at least one sub has to be on patrol -- evading detection in open waters -- at any given time, ready to launch unstoppable ballistic retaliation for any nuclear first strike.
But the Russian patrol figures reveal "that Russia no longer maintains a continuous (nuclear ballistic missile submarine, or SSBN) patrol posture like that of the United States, Britain, and France, but instead has shifted to a new posture where it occasionally deploys an SSBN for training purposes," Kristensen wrote on the federation's Web site.
He added the shift became apparent "when then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared ... that five SSBNs were on patrol at that time." Later he learned that those five patrols were the only ones conducted that year.
"Combined, the two sources indicated a cluster of patrols at approximately the same time rather than distributed throughout the year."
Kristensen told UPI that the new posture was likely to damage the strategic capabilities of the SSBN fleet.
"If you talk to U.S. submariners, they will tell you you need to be out on patrol all the time to maintain your readiness. … You can't just switch back from an occasional deterrent posture to a full-time one."
Shaun Waterman, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor