June 3 – June 9, 2024
Security issues

Russia Expands Deliveries of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Carriers to Belarus

The situation got worse
Russia Expands Deliveries of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Carriers to Belarus

The Kremlin continues its nuclear blackmail of Europe, flaunting threats of nuclear strikes against Western countries. The Russian leadership is backing up its rhetoric with practical actions: preparing for new deliveries of tactical nuclear weapons carriers to Belarus. While their number in the Belarusian army is currently small, the situation could change dramatically if Russia decides to deploy its own carriers in Belarus in the event of escalating the conflict with Ukraine/NATO to a nuclear phase.

At military unit № 12147 in Osipovichi, two new hangars are being constructed—likely for new short-range ballistic missile systems (SRBMS) “Iskander”. By size and external appearance, the structures resemble shelters for SRBMS built here a year ago. “Iskanders” are carriers of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), and the missile brigade is located 12 km from the presumed location of nuclear warheads.

Satellite imagery analysis shows significant construction activity within the military unit, where “Iskanders” are based. Specifically, it involves the reconstruction of two abandoned buildings. Presumably, these are a barracks and a mess hall or headquarters, as they closely resemble existing facilities within the unit. The two hangars under construction match in size and appearance the one built to store “Iskanders” a year ago, which was constructed from autumn 2022 to April 2023. Next to the new hangars, outlines of two more large foundations of unknown purpose are visible.

Analysts estimate that each hangar could accommodate 12 combat vehicles. According to information announced by Lukashenko in February 2024, there are already two divisions of “Iskander-M” SRBMS in Belarus—about 24 of these combat vehicles, 8 of which are launchers and carry missiles.

The construction activities indicate that Belarus is likely forming a new missile brigade armed with “Iskander-M” SRBMS. The total number of TNW carrier launchers will soon reach 12 units.

Thus, with the increase in the number of “Iskander-M” SRBMS and an already re-equipped squadron of Su-25 attack aircraft (12 units) at the 116th Assault Air Base in Lida, as well as a squadron of adapted Su-30SM2 fighters (4 units) at the 61st Fighter Air Base in Baranovichi, the total number of TNW carriers will soon reach at least 28 units. Additionally, two more squadrons (4 units each) of Su-30SM2 fighters are expected to be added, the delivery of which from Russia was supposed to have occurred between 2020-2023.

It is likely that Putin had in mind these additional missile weapon deliveries to Belarus when he speculated about Russia’s right to supply long-range weapons to Western adversaries. Clearly, Belarus is included in this club.

According to Russian military strategists, to implement the concept of “using nuclear weapons for de-escalation of military actions,” the composition of the operational-strategic joint nuclear forces should include from two to six aviation regiments of tactical aviation carriers and from three to five missile brigades. According to Soviet standards, the total requirement for the Western Front in the event of planning and delivering the so-called “first massive nuclear strike” was from 300 to 500 nuclear warheads, about 200 launchers of operational-tactical and tactical missiles, and up to 250 aircraft carriers.

Clearly, the Belarusian army currently does not have such a number of carriers. However, given that TNW was assigned to enhance the combat capabilities of the Regional Group of Forces of Belarus and Russia, the remaining carriers could be deployed by the Russian side on Belarusian territory, for example, under the guise of joint exercises. This could happen should the Kremlin decide to escalate the conflict with Ukraine/NATO to a nuclear phase.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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