Mikhail Metzel via RIA Novosti/AP

Putin Eyeing Precision Conventional Weapons as Nuclear Substitutes

The Russian leader says that the arms would function primarily as an alternative to nuclear weapons. By Diane Barnes

Advanced conventional weapons are emerging as an "equal" to atomic arms in their capacity to ward off aggression, underlining a need for Moscow to bolster its focus on their development, Russian President Vladimir Putin told senior officials in comments released last week.

Putin's remarks -- issued to a Kremlin gathering on the preparation of "long-range high-precision weapons" -- might partly refer to conventional "hypersonic" arms under development in Russia as a response to a "prompt global strike" capability sought by the United States. However, the government-released transcript does not specifically identify which weapons he believes are in need of "an added boost" in development efforts by Moscow.

"High-precision weapons are becoming an increasingly important factor in non-nuclear deterrence, and perhaps even one of the most decisive factors," Putin said in a meeting transcript published last Friday.

"The degree of precision and power of today’s high-precision weapons makes them essentially an alternative to nuclear weapons," he continued. "In some of their parameters they are quite simply equal to nuclear weapons in their effectiveness."

A future long-range, rapid-strike capability has been seen by some in the United States as a partial alternative to nuclear weapons for hitting important time-sensitive targets. The capability sought by Washington could allow U.S. forces to conduct a non-nuclear strike against any location in the world in one hour or less.

In July, a deputy Russian defense minister suggested that his nation's military would not begin to receive hypersonic delivery systems -- a possible analogue to the U.S. prompt global strike technology -- until 2018 at the earliest.

In Friday's transcript, though, Putin said his nation had already started supplying its military with the "high-precision weapons" under discussion.

Friday's exchange came on the heels of transcripts released earlier in the week from Kremlin meetings that addressed land, sea and air-based elements of the Russian nuclear deterrent.